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U.S. Defense Department Finally Ditches Floppy Disks

Unless you were using a computer in the 1960s and 1970s, you might not be familiar with the traditional floppy disk. No, we're not talking about the 3.5" floppy disks, or the earlier model measuring 5.25", either. Instead, we're talking about the original floppy disk – measuring as an 8" square – that were first introduced in the late 1960s.

Getting Rid of Outdated Technology – Finally

Don't worry if you're not immediately familiar with this type of floppy disk. After all, it's technically been outdated since the 1970s. In fact, most consumers and companies have long moved onto storage media with greater efficiency, resiliency, and data storage.

However, it seems the U.S. Department of Defense never got the memo. Believe it or not, of the key components of their nuclear arsenal, the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, also known as SACCS, has been using eight-inch floppy disks since its original inception in the 1970s. It was only recently updated – in late 2019 – to utilize solid-state drives instead.

Justin Oakes, a representative with the Eighth Air Force, explained the transition in a recent statement by saying: "The Air Force completed a replacement of the aging SACCS floppy drives with a highly secure solid-state digital storage solution in June. This replacement effort exponentially increased message storage capacity and operator response times for critical nuclear command and control message receipt and processing."

Better Late Than Never

SACCS isn't the only component receiving an update. In fact, this update is just one phase of a government-sponsored initiative to overhaul and modernize the nation's defense systems. This phase was officially completed in June 2019, although public reports didn't surface until October.

However, the public first became aware of the DoD's reliance on floppy disks in a 2016 report that was issued by the United States Government Accountability Office. In the report, SACCS was described as a platform that "coordinates the operational functions of the nation's nuclear forces."

While the exact meaning of that is unclear, and the specific functions of SACCS are mostly left to the imagination, it's safe to say that the system was a crucial part of the United States' national defense program. It's hard to imagine that technical officers with the U.S. government would maintain their reliance on such archaic technology at this point in the 21st century.

The eight-inch floppy disks were used in an IBM Series/1 computer, which was also introduced in the 1970s. While it was an incredibly powerful system at the time, it pales in comparison alongside today's computers – including most modern smartphones and laptops.

But it is important to note that such technology does have certain protections against modern threats, including malicious software and hackers. Since the IBM Series/1 isn't capable of connecting to the modern Internet, and because floppy disks aren't normally accessible to malware, the system was actually quite secure.

Whether or not the upgrade results in a system that is less secure remains to be seen. Although their network is now susceptible to highly sophisticated, next-gen cyber attacks, the level of security in place should be enough to thwart the majority of attempts.


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