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US government using aging computer technology in critical areas: Report

01 June 2016

The US government is using aging computer systems in critical areas from nuclear weapons to social security and floppy disks are still in use at the Pentagon.

Nonpartisan congressional investigators said in a report released Wednesday, that about three-fourths of the $80 billion budget goes to keep aging technology running, and the increasing cost was shortchanging modernisation.

The White House had been pushing to replace workhorse systems dating back over 50 years in some cases. The government, however, was expected to spend $7 billion less on modernisation in 2017 than in 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office.

"Clearly, there are billions wasted," GAO information technology expert David Powner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing.

Although lawmakers of both parties say they were frustrated, it was not clear whether Congress would act.

One of the legacy computing platforms highlighted in the report is the Strategic Automated Command and Control System of the Department of Defence. The system is used to send and receive emergency action messages to US nuclear forces. The system runs on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and continues to use 8-inch floppy disks to store data. "Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete," GAO said.

According to commentators this was not the first time the military's reliance on seemingly archaic tech is in the news; in 2014, the US Air Force showed CBS' 60 Minutes one of the top-secret floppy disks that helped it store and transmit sensitive information across dozens of communications sites.

However, there was a major reason for the military's continued use of floppies: Sometimes, low-tech is safer tech, because it can't be hacked, according to the military.

Commentators point out that the military's investments in cybersecurity illustrated how some parts of the Department of Defensc had made deep commitments to technology, even as other parts, such as the US' nuclear forces, had lagged behind.

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