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Tales from the Private Sector

Private Intelligence, Cyber Security and Military History

Why Trump’s Cyber-Security Comments, are no laughing matter.

After Trump’s comments on Cyber-Security few missed the opportunity to crack jokes, with both humorous pictures and twitter Hashtags promoting everything from the Pony Express to carrier pigeons.

Granted, Trump’s comments most definitely stems from a lack of knowledge, there is a grain of truth to his words.

As Trump commented:

It’s very important, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old fashioned way because I’ll tell you what, no computer is safe. I don’t care what they say, no computer is safe. I have a boy who’s ten years old, he can do anything with a computer. You want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier

The Daily Buzz’s own Justin Zirili’s article expressed a sense of concern of Trump’s comments in addition to not a small amount of laughter.himes-trumpquote

But here’s the thing, from a professional perspective, Trump’s comments are perfectly reasonable. You see, there’s a little unspoken rule about Information Technology that i would phrase as the following; The greater the leaps between electronic generations, the less compatible it becomes with previous generations.
To say it another way, in a world of wireless connections, Bluetooth and Micro USBs, you’d have a really hard time trying to steal something stored on an old floppy disc.
And that’s not a joke, several society-critical institutions such as major banks, trading hubs, credit registries and more still uses floppy discs. In fact, both the American Department of Defense and French Ministère de la Défense, are heavy users of floppy discs. The technology is old, but also insanely incompatible with modern technology.And any data transportation is physical, it happens on site in the room. Which greatly reduces any security risks. As the information in these institutions either have limited or no connection to the world wide web, it would be incredibly hard for anyone to hack or steal sensitive data.

If you thought Sony’s Playstation Network and Citibanks online banking systems were safe before the hacks, imagine if the US Nuclear Launch systems were connected to the web. In fact you might remember a previous post about the Pentagon hacks, which happened simply because the network was connected to the Internet.
Thankfully though, the more sensitive systems such as the launch codes are on floppy discs from the 70’s.

But while its easy to crack a few jokes about the new Pony Express, its worth to take some time to put the whole issue into context.

For instance, the Chinese military are using carrier pigeons to this day. With good reasons. While china relies heavily on both military and industrial espionage to fuel industrial and military innovation, it would seem logical for them to expect western or competing powers to use the very same methods.

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The point here being of course, that while it is fully possible to intercept information from behind the Chinese firewall, everything they currently sends by carrier pigeons are simply unobtainable to western intelligence agencies. Chinese official statements of course point to Murphy’s Law as the reason for still training carrier pigeons, to be used in the event of a major catastrophe which would drastically reduce or diminish electronic communications, but i find it noteworthy that as they expanded construction on Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands, they coincidentally also expanded the Pigeons brigades with the goal of training over 10 000 birds for communications purposes.

The city of Chengdu has been selected as the main base for the carrier pigeons, a city that for this purpose is at a very strategic location. The longest recorded flight of a carrier pigeons was 3700 km by the US Signal Corps, and properly breed pigeons can carry messages at a much longer distance. As to the reason why Chengdu is at a particularly strategic location, any distance from Chengdu is well within the reach of carrier pigeons. For example, the distance between Chengdu and the Spratly Islands are 2600km, to Lhasa in Tibet it’s just roughly 1250 km. In fact any contested area which China seeks to control is well within the reach of carrier pigeons. As well as several nearby neighbors territory in which china has taken a more aggressive stance against, for example, from Chengdu to Kathmandu in Nepal it’s just 1900km, to Timphu in Bhutan its 1500km, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is just 1900km’s away, and strategic border towns in Russia like Blagoveschensk is just 2900 km away. And with just 2500km to reach Luzon in the Philippines, its easy to see how such an expansion of a relatively undetectable communications network could be used to communicate with forces or operatives within neighboring countries, or, in the event of communication jamming devices being used in a confrontation over contested areas.

And China aren’t the only ones to take lessons from the past in utilizing incompatible technology, something as simple and mundane as a piece of paper is impossible to simply “hack” over networks. So it should come as no surprise that Russia, and the Kremlin in particular, are heavy users of Typewriters. Yes, those “old clinky clonky writing thingies” your Grandmother might still have lying around somewhere.

Being mechanical devices with no programming, it’s practically impossible to install listening devices, and you cant extract any previously entered information from it, so it would be no way to know what documents were written on the device without actually having the physical document yourself, unlike a computer hard-drive where information can be restored even after it has been formatted.

Granted the shift from computers to mechanical devices, such as typewriters came in the last decade with Putin, after the NSA leaks the Russian Federal Guard Service put out large orders for typewriters to the staff at Kremlin and other departments. According to the  official state agency’s procurement site zakupki.gov.ru , the FGS was at the time in 2013 looking to spend around 486 000 rubles, circa 8300 dollars. The order specifically included 20 Triumph Adler typewriters, which were in all likelihood meant for higher officials in central Kremlin positions. The importance of this particular brand of typewriters is this: Each one creates a unique and traceable signature, meaning any document produced by one of these, can be tracked back to its source.

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Thriumph Adler Typewriter

It’s not unthinkable that the Russian FGS is thinking ahead in case there are any document leaks or attempts at espionage. It should be noted that four more orders for mechanical typewriters have been put out, with several international companies based in both Europe and Asia looking to fulfill the orders.

In addition to moving away from computers to Mechanical typewriters, internal communication in the Russian military has also for the last twenty years relied heavily on telegrams and fax machines, not to mention the actual use of Couriers who run between the various departments in both St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as other major and federally important cities in Russia, funny how they didn’t think it was such a silly idea to use couriers.

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