Floppy disks and Windows XP: Nuclear weapons technology is hilariously out of date

Have you tried turning it on and off again?
Have you tried turning it on and off again?
Image: Reuters/Danny Lawson
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There are nine countries that have nuclear weapons, which have been upgraded in devastation since they were first used in anger by the Americans in World War II. The tech that powers them, not so much.

The UK’s nuclear deterrent is made up of four Vanguard-class submarines, each equipped with 16 Trident missiles. Each missile on Britain’s nuclear submarines has the destructive power of eight Hiroshimas. And what operating system does one of the world’s deadliest vessels use? A variant of Windows XP, according to The Guardian.

Microsoft ended security updates and technical assistance for Windows XP in 2014 and noted then that PCs without the latest security updates “will not be secure and will still be at risk of infection.” The UK’s Ministry of Defence dismisses criticism that the system is vulnerable to malware and viruses, insisting that Trident “remains safe and secure” against attacks.

But it’s not just the UK; the US Navy apparently pays Microsoft $9 million a year to keep Windows XP running. The tech-support deal lasts until July 2016.

Comedian John Oliver became somewhat hysterical when a segment in “60 Minutes” revealed that a computer at a nuclear silo in Wyoming uses eight-inch floppy disks . A young officer had reportedly never seen a floppy disk until he started working there.

In fact, the majority of the systems in the Wyoming US Air Force launch control center date back to the 1960s and 1970s. The Air Force insists the system is “extremely safe and extremely secure.” Perhaps it’s not that surprising that nuclear weapon technology is out of date; a study by the nonpartisan Stimson Center suggest it would cost the US about $352 billion over the next decade to update and modernize its nuclear weapons.