The US Nuclear Arsenal No Longer Requires… Floppy Disks?

The Defense Department recently completed a system update that will finally phase out floppy disks from the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), which controls America’s nuclear arsenal.

October 28, 2019

Remember floppy disks? Those thin black squares you used to feed computers to run programs like Microsoft Office and “The Oregon Trail”? The US relied on this old-school tech to coordinate its nuclear arsenal up until this past June.

The nuclear command and control system still runs on an enormous computer from the ‘70s, but the content has been transferred to solid state digital storage, C4ISRNET reported.

Hold up — why was the US using ancient tech to coordinate its nuclear weapons?

It’s not super clear why it took the US so long to modernize its system. Apparently our nuclear info was more secure that way: Storing it on 8” floppy disks on systems unconnected to the internet made it less vulnerable to hackers. 

There also seemed to be an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude at play, even though training people to use and maintain the system has been a huge challenge.

Turns out lots of federal agencies use antiquated tech

A 2016 report from the US Government Accountability Office brought attention to the Defense Department’s use of floppy disks for nuclear coordination and highlighted a number of federal agencies that use aging tech, including the Social Security Administration, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Commerce.

The GAO report warned that using outdated software and hardware poses security risks — especially when the tech’s no longer supported by the original vendor and requires maintenance by technicians with highly specialized skill sets. 

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