America’s nuclear arsenal is still controlled by an ancient computer system that takes 8-inch floppy disks, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
The title of the report on the government’s information technology infrastructure — “Federal Agencies Need to Address Ageing Legacy Systems” — is what we’d classify as an understatement.
“Agencies reported using several systems that have components that are, in some cases, at least 50 years old,” the report says.
One of those very old systems is the Pentagon’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which coordinates US nuclear forces like nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. As the report notes, it’s running on an IBM Series/1, a minicomputer that started out with 16K of memory.
It also has a disk drive that uses 8-inch floppy disks. For young folks, here’s what those look like:
We actually knew these antique systems were in use since at least 2014, when CBS aired a report on the day-to-day life of nuclear missile launch officers. At the time, the Air Force told CBS using such ageing equipment was a good thing, since no modern day hacker would ever be able to break in to old equipment that’s not connected to the Internet.
Apparently, that mindset is changing.
The report notes that the DoD plans to update “data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals by the end of fiscal year 2017.”