America’s nuclear arsenal still relies on floppy disks (and it’s intentional)

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According to a 60 Minutes report, some U.S. troops in charge of safeguarding and operating parts of the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons employ floppy disks in order to do so.

Floppy disks, which were commonly found in home computers up through most the 1980s and maybe even early 1990s, have been phased out for ages. However, they still are in active duty at missile sites here in the states.

Despite the fact that floppy disks are ancient pieces of tech, at least one member of the military claims that using such dated gear, as opposed to more modern storage media, grants the nation’s armed forces and its nuclear installations some very important security perks. 

When speaking with 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl, Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, who according to the piece is “in charge” of all 450 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) here in the U.S., says that “those older systems provide us some, I will say huge safety when it comes to some cyber issues that we currently have in the world.”

When Stahl asked Maj. Gen. Weinstein to explain further, he stated that a “complete analysis” of the “entire network” was conducted by “cyber engineers.”  The engineers recommended that the analog system be kept the way it is now, finding that was it very safe and secure. Since the system is not connected to the Internet, it can’t be infiltrated by hackers. The missile site featured in the 60 Minutes report also uses computers that date back to the 1960s, but as with the floppy disks, they’re still in use because of security concerns and recommendations.

This is akin to reports of agencies in the Russian government reverting to paper documents and type writers for composing sensitive material, as opposed to computers. The same rationale is employed in this case as well: if the machines you’re using are not connected to the Internet, there aren’t any Web-based security issues to deal with.

Maj. Gen. Weinstein also said that system upgrades are on the way, but they’ll only come in the next “few years.” However, Stahl reports that the military pledged to spend $19 million to upgrade its nuclear launch control centers and silos, and is asking for more than $600 million next year in order to make “further improvements,” though it’s unclear what those could be.

Watch the report for yourself below.

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