US Army stopped using floppy disks as storage for SACCS system that manages nuclear weapons arsenal

Pierluigi Paganini October 20, 2019

The news is quite curious, the US military will no longer use 8-inch floppy disks in an antiquated computer (SACCS) to manage nuclear weapons arsenal.

It’s official, the US strategic command has announced that it has replaced the 8-inch floppy disks in an ancient computer to receive nuclear launch orders from the President with a “highly-secure solid state digital storage solution.”

The use of the 8-inch floppy disks was revealed back in 2014 by the CBS “60 Minutes” TV show.

“At long last, that system, the Strategic Automated Command and Control System or SACCS, has dumped the floppy disk, moving to a “highly-secure solid state digital storage solution” this past June, said Lt. Col. Jason Rossi, commander of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron.” reported

The Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS) is used by US nuclear forces to send orders from command centers to field forces in case of crisis. It is considered totally secure because it is completely isolated from the internet, even if researchers worldwide have demonstrated that there are many ways to breach into an air-gapped network.

The Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS) is a United States Strategic Command command and control system to coordinate the operational functions of United States nuclear forces (ICBMs, nuclear bombers, and SLBMs).

“You can’t hack something that doesn’t have an IP address. It’s a very unique system — it is old and it is very good,” Rossi added.

In June, the US Air Force has replaced the floppy disks in the SACCS nuclear weapons management system with a “highly-secure solid state digital storage solution.”

The system has been operating since 1968 running on an IBM Series/1 mainframe and using 8-inch floppy disks as storage support.

The use of 8-inch floppy disks was also confirmed by a report published by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“Coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts. This system runs on an IBM Series/1 Computer—a 1970s computing system— and uses 8-inch floppy disks.” states the report.

“The agency plans to update its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals by the end of fiscal year 2017.”

One of the military working for Lt. Col. Rossi, Robert Norman, a civilian Air Force employee with more than four years of experience fixing the electronics on SACCS, explained that every issue on the ancient system request a dedicated maintenance e often the damaged components are repaired by experts like him.

“Any electronic repair is going to take a lot of work. I shouldn’t say it’s difficult, [but] unfortunately a lot of the newer electronics are plug and play,” he said, explaining that when electronic components like motherboards or microchips break on newer systems, the common practice is to throw out them out and replace them.” Norman told “On SACCS, all of those pieces are repaired — which for maintainers could mean spending hours spent under a microscope, slowly but deliberately replacing a copper wire laced throughout a circuit board, for example. The challenges get a little larger when we’re actually repairing them down to component level,”

Experts pointed out that even if the hardware used by the SACC antiquate, its software is constantly refreshed by young Air Force programmers.

The problem of security for critical defense systems was approached by the US Government several times, According to a report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in October 2018, almost any new weapon systems in the arsenal of the Pentagon is vulnerable to hacking.

According to the 50-page report published by the GAO, several vulnerabilities in the weapon systems were never fixed.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – SACCS, hacking)

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