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Ancient floppy disks are still used in U.S. nuclear computer system

Many government agencies, U.S. and international alike, have a reputation for sometimes using tools that are horribly out of date. 

But according to a report from a congressional watchdog agency, a particularly vital arm of the U.S. government may be using the oldest tech you could possibly imagine.

According to a new report from the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), at least one part of the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) still uses floppy disks in one of its systems.

What's a floppy disk you ask? Well, decades ago, instead of using USB sticks, data was transported between computer systems using a thin square plastic case that contained a magnetic disk (which is where the data was stored).

But most systems today wouldn't be able to accept a floppy disk even if the user wanted to, so the presence of such an outdated piece of technology is pretty surprising, particularly within the halls of such a historically technically advanced part of the government.

The revelation, surfaced on Wednesday in a report from CNBC, is included in a GAO research document titled "Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems."

In it, the document states:

Federal legacy IT investments are becoming increasingly obsolete: many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported. Agencies reported using several systems that have components that are, in some cases, at least 50 years old. For example, the Department of Defense uses 8-inch floppy disks in a legacy system...

More troubling is the fact that the old school floppy disks are used as a storage solution for the DoD's Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which "coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces," including intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombers. The floppy disks are used as a part of the section's IBM Series/1 computer (a system from the '70s). 

The good news? The agency plans to update the ancient system in 2017, according to the GAO report. 

In the meantime, let's hope the fate of peace on Earth doesn't come down to an 8-inch floppy disk that not even the smallest, poorest business office would ever think of using. 

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