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What Controls the US Nuclear Operation

Apparently, the world’s most technologically advanced country is relying upon technology was declared obsolete in Reagan era, such as the 8-inch floppy discs. It is being reported that the Strategic Automated Command and Control System of the US Department of Defense coordinate information and transmits orders to the nuclear missile system of the US using IBM Series/1 computers, which was created in 1974 and then got discontinued in 1988. Whereas the 8-inch floppy discs which were invented in the 1970s, and can store no more than 80KB of data are being used for transmitting data.

It is unbelievable for many that such sensitive information is being stored in Tron-era technology when there are so many new-age options available that utilize much less space and are capable of storing plentiful data. It must be noted that our regular flash drives can hold enough data that would in comparison require 3.2million floppy discs.

The information was revealed in a report from the US Government Accountability Office, which states that this outdated computing system is still being used by several government departments. For instance, US Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ timekeeping system for employees (Pdf) uses the computing language that was written in the 50s and 60s. Moreover, the master record of data of all individual taxpayers in America, the Treasury Department’s Individual Master File, is stored in such a “low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain.” Not to forget that the Master File is over 50 years old. When the Defense Department was contacted, its spokesman Lt. Col. James Brindle gave this simplest of all imaginable reasons: “This system remains in use because, in short, it still works.”

It is evident that US government is insisting on using old and obsolete systems, which are just increasing the burdens on the institutions because around 75% of the annual IT budget of $80 billion is spent on maintenance and repairs of these systems. It should be noted that the parts and skills required to repair these old systems are also becoming hard to be found. Some systems are so old that their own manufacturers have stopped supporting the products, which certainly makes them vulnerable to all sorts of risks. For example, the Microsoft operating systems that are currently in use by Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Defense and Veterans’ Affairs have been abandoned by Microsoft around ten years back.

The report has identified that in the past 7 years, the government’s expenditures on the implementation of new technology have declined while expenditures on basic maintenance of their existing systems have increased substantially. It also noted that the drive to replace these obsolete and aging systems is currently gaining momentum. The Defense Department has already launched a $60 million project that will replace the current system by the year 2020 whereas floppy discs will not be used after 2017.

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I called Andy at 11pm on a Saturday after my hard drive failed, he immediately ran through the symptoms and calmed my fears that all data was lost, but was honest that data recoveries are not always successful.

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