Russian Agency Switches From Computers to Typewriters to Avoid Getting Hacked


Actually, Putin just wants to be totally retro.
World Economic Forum

The Russian Federation is taking a new approach to keeping its secrets safe: trading hackable and leak-prone computers for typewriters.

According to the Russian government's official webpage of purchases, the government is purchasing 20 typewriters for exclusive use by members of the Federal Protective Service (FSO), writes Komsomolskaya Pravda, a privately-owned tabloid that had once been owned by the government. The FSO acts as the security force for major political figures, including the president, prime minister, members of the State Duma and others.

The Russian government is purchasing twenty typewriters, the necessary ink ribbon and other accessories for 486,540 rubles, which is equivalent to approximately $15,000. According to Izvestia, a daily paper in Russia also with past ties to the government, they will be capable of typing in either the Cyrillic or Latin alphabet, and each typewriter has a unique typing pattern that will allow documents to be traced back to the device on which it was created. 

An anonymous member of the FSO explained the reasoning behind the government's purchase to Izvestia:

After scandals with the distribution of secret documents by WikiLeaks, the exposes by Edward Snowden, reports about Dmitry Medvedev being bugged during his visit to the G20 London summit (in 2009), it has been decided to expand the practice of creating paper documents.

U.S.-Russian relations have appeared particularly strained since Edward Snowden found his way to a Russian airport. Nikolai Kovalyov, deputy of the State Duma and former Director of the FSB, approved of the decision to replace computers with typewriters, saying,

With computers, you can remove any information. There are, of course, means of protection, but an absolute guarantee that they will work, no. Therefore, from the point of view of preserving some secrets preferred the most primitive: a human hand with a pen or typewriter.

However, not all are convinced. An information security expert, Oleg Glebov, suggested that practical issues may arise. "You can take printed documents, you can take a picture… It is difficult to maintain the paper. If there's a fire, the documents with high probability will be lost or corrupted."

The report by Izvestia also notes that the practice of typewriting sensitive documents was still in use elsewhere within the Kremlin. The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Emergency Situations has continued to type "preparatory documents and secret reports."

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    1. As long as they send Number 6 over, I’ll turn traitor like Baltar, no problem.

      1. Anna Chapman is a Cylon? Something extra sexual sexy about girl robots.

      2. Traitor is a strong word. He thought he was abetting corporate espionage, not BLOWING UP MOST OF HUMANITY!!!! His character in the original series was more open to slaughtering the species.

        1. Ah, the original series, send Cassiopeia to me as well.

      3. Athena/Boomer works too. Or Lucy Lawless.

        1. I’ll take Stephanie Jacobsen, thank you.

  1. We could do this blog that way to avoid comments from the illiterati.

    1. What, just mail all our correspondence to reason HQ?

    2. I’ve been typing my comments on my typewriter all day, but they haven’t appeared yet. Let me know if this one gets through.

      1. No, it hasn’t.

  2. And then our spies switch back to the early cold war method of using seismic readers to listen for the echo count of the typewriter’s key positioning. Ah, the good old days, all over again!

  3. SPECTRE’s plan to entrap James Bond and sell the Lektor decoding device back to the Russians is moving along nicely. Now all they need is a hot blonde to bait 007.

  4. “You know something? I hate writing. I keep having to distract myself, hence all the little jokes. It’s actually not as if the job is all that funny, when you get down to it. Especially as I have to write everything either in longhand or on a 1962 Triumph Adler 66 manual typewriter, and burn the ribbons and carbon papers afterwards in the Security Office incinerator in front of two witnesses with high security clearances.”

    1. Look, it’s how Angleton works, so it must be right.

  5. and each typewriter has a unique typing pattern that will allow documents to be traced back to the device on which it was created.

    Sort of like we know John’s comments by the unique way he types misspelled words?

    1. I thought John was a skinjob and we all know his dreams and false memories? *places origami unicorn on table*

      1. No. John is posting via typewriter. Which means that he’s a lawyer in the Russian government. Strange that I never thought to ask which government he was working for.

        1. Something like this. Also, is this an automatic violation of the NAP such that I can strike back at the user with physical violence?

          1. Against a Russian? I dunno, they’re kind of supervillainy these days.

            1. Holy shit! Pooty-poo is my favorite real life super-villain. He’s totally the guy we were afraid was actually running Russia during the Cold War.

              1. He’s great, isn’t he? I can’t wait for the biopic. I mean the real one, after the truth all comes out.

                I bet he’s used lasers to torture spies.

      2. Skinjob?!?! This is why there are no android libertarians.

        1. I hope you typed that in the appropriate Harrison Ford accent.

          1. I was thinking more of a Ken Schultz accent.

            1. I see nothing. NOTHING.

        2. Who needs them anyway? All they do is kill people and cry in the rain.

          1. Don’t knock it until you try it.

          2. But, they’ve seen things! Attack hips on fire off the shoulder of Orion!

            1. I’d correct this, but why bother?

              1. It could be right. I mean, the replicant women were robot whores, right?

  6. Right, because hard copies floating around were never a security hazard.

    1. Its not that they were never a security hazard, its that its really hard to sneak a terabyte worth of data out if its stored on paper.

      Plus you have to have physical access to the storage room vice simply having access to the network.

      And its easier to account for missing paper copies.

      1. Given the fact that you physically can’t produce a terabyte of data on a typewriter, let alone 20 typewriters, they are increasing their security in the fact that the information simply won’t exist.

        I should sit down and estimate how long it would take to produce a typed terabyte of data on 20 typewriters.

        1. At a byte per character, we’re looking at 1 trillion characters. At 40-50 characters per line (8-10 words), we’re looking at ~200 billion words. Let’s say someone can type 75 WPM on a typewriter. Times 20 typewriters, that’s 1500 word per minute. Divide 200 billion by 1500, and I get 130-ish million minutes.

          Or around 250 years.

          We’ll probably have quantum computer implants by then.

  7. The Russians still use telex, too.

  8. sooo, they couldn’t have just bought non-networked computers w/ direct wired printers??? If my un-backspaced typing skills are any indication, they’ll need a small fortune just for the white-out budget.

    1. Imagine that US Bureau that destroyed all their input devices along with their computers to “get rid of malware” run by people who first entered government service under Kruschev.

      1. I think the idea is to not allow *anyone* access to large amounts of info in a readily portable format. If its on a computer then someone can (potentially) download the contents onto removeable storage – without anyone knowing the stuff has been copied.

        If its on paper then you ain’t moving truckloads of data out the front door.

        1. But if it’s on a mainframe, and access to that is only through thin clients w/o any external storage (or much internal storage) you can get around that problem.

          1. Until someone plugs a memory device into the printer cable and you start printing out everything into that device.

            1. Man in the middle attacks, right? A lot more interesting if you’re using a sub to place the device.

    2. TEMPEST compromise, yo.

      Though wouldn’t just shielding the rooms be cheaper and easier? The Russians can be really wacky sometimes.

      1. Is that the one where they could pick up what’s on your monitor by shooting lasers or something at your window?

        1. No – Van Acker radiation. Monitoring EM fluctuations of a display to determine what the display is, uh, displaying.

            1. Its the beauty of espionage.

        2. Van Eck Phreaking.

        3. And the laser/window thing was a way to pick up spoken conversations.

          1. Well, what the heck do I know? Lasers, windows, fuck?

            1. Bounce the laser off the window and do a Doppler analysis of the return to determine the way the window is vibrating in response to noises in the room.

              Of course there’s a counter measure where a vibration device is attached to the window and buzzes noise to obscure the voices.

  9. Just a jobs program. All socialist countries have ’em.

    1. I can see Paul Krugmans next article writing itself.

  10. So will they get live strippers to replace their online porn?

  11. My brother’s housekeeper’s aunt made 15,000 dollars last month, just selling a few typewriters to the Russians.

  12. Yeah, but once someone OCRs those documents and converts them to text (discarding the original image) it will be impossible to tell which one of those special typewriters produced the document.

    That’s assuming that the “unique typing pattern” is real and not BS.

    1. But to do that you have to get access to the document in the first place.

      Either you steal the document, in which case someone’s gonna notice its missing or you copy it in which case someone’s gonna notice that the copier’s log doesn’t match the copier’s internal counter.

  13. I had always wondered what sort of chain of events could lead to the sort of tech regression seen in ‘Brazil.’

    1. Brazil was an alternate universe. The technology was Gilliam’s whimsical, possibly luddite, parody of our universe. “Ducts” were a stand-in for both actual ducts (ie, the sort you install when modernizing an English country home with an HVAC system), and for wiring (first electrical, then telephone, then internet).

    2. The chain of events we’re on right now.

    3. For me, one of the funniest sight gags in film, and a great commentary on the usability of technology, was the computer with such a tiny viewscreen that you needed a giant magnifying class to see anything on it.

      Gilliam was probably expressing his irritation with the 1st Gen Macs’ display.

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