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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Outdated Government Technology

GAO reports:
Federal legacy IT investments are becoming increasingly obsolete: many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported.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 that coordinates the operational functions of the nation's nuclear forces. In addition, the Department of the Treasury uses assembly language code—a computer language initially used in the 1950s and typically tied to the hardware for which it was developed. OMB recently began an initiative to modernize, retire, and replace the federal government's legacy IT systems. As part of this, OMB drafted guidance requiring agencies to identify, prioritize, and plan to modernize legacy systems. However, until this policy is finalized and fully executed, the government runs the risk of maintaining systems that have outlived their effectiveness. The following table provides examples of legacy systems across the federal government that agencies report are 30 years or older and use obsolete software or hardware, and identifies those that do not have specific plans with time frames to modernize or replace these investments.
Brian Fung reports at The Washington Post:
There are parallels here to fiction, which can be just as instructive. In the 2004 hit TV series “Battlestar Galactica,” humanity comes under assault from robots that it created. Much of the human space fleet is taken by surprise, crippled by a robot-built computer virus that spreads from ship to ship thanks to the sophisticated networks linking the crafts together. The Galactica, an obsolete warship due to be mothballed, is one of the few to survive the initial surprise attack. Why? Because the Galactica’s systems were not part of the humans’ IT network, sparing it from the virus that disables the rest of the fleet. The lesson seems clear: Sometimes, newer is not better.

As it happens, a similar logic underpins the U.S. military’s continued use of floppy disks. The fact that America’s nuclear forces are disconnected from digital networks actually acts as a buffer against hackers. As Maj. General Jack Weinstein told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 2014:
Jack Weinstein: I'll tell you, those older systems provide us some -- I will say huge safety when it comes to some cyber issues that we currently have in the world.
Lesley Stahl: Now, explain that.
Weinstein: A few years ago we did a complete analysis of our entire network. Cyber engineers found out that the system is extremely safe and extremely secure on the way it's developed.
Stahl: Meaning that you're not up on the Internet kind of thing?
Weinstein: We're not up on the Internet.
Stahl: So did the cyber people recommend you keep it the way it is?
Weinstein: For right now, yes.