Russia Taps Typewriters To Protect Secrets

Old-school typewriters are making a comeback within the Russian government in the aftermath of the National Security Agency scandal.

The country’s Federal Guard Service has reportedly ordered up a bunch of electronic typewriters and will revert to preparing hard-copy versions of secret documents just like the bad old days of the Cold War. The agency — which just put out an order for 20 machines — provides security for President Putin and other top officials and safeguards Kremlin communications.

At one time, electronic typewriters were considered quite the upgrade over their manual counterparts, which you may have seen in old black and white movies.

A source inside the Kremlin provided the rationale for reverting to typewriters to prevent information leaks, according to USA Today which quoted Russia’s Izvestia newspaper: “After the scandal with the spread of secret documents by WikiLeaks, the revelations of Edward Snowden, reports of listening to Dmitry Medvedev during his visit to the G20 summit in London, the practice of creating paper documents will increase.” In addition, each typewriter supposedly “creates its own unique ‘signature’ that can be traced.

Evidently, other agencies in the Russian government bureaucracy have not fully adopted electronic document transfer and still use labor-intensive, manually created memos — that are deemed less vulnerable than their electronic equivalents — for security reasons.

Sensitive documents can still be photocopied by spies, so nothing is foolproof.

That old saying “what’s old is new again” may even apply here in another way because typewriter-prepared materials may not be completely secure either. Business Insider reports that during the Cold War, the Soviets ironically pioneered a practice of comprising typewriters. “Oddly enough, bugged typewriters used a form of bugging called ‘keystroke logging,’ which is exactly the same terminology used for a similar ‘listening’ computer software hackers and spies use to read a user’s traffic.”

In June, Edward Snowden, the former Booz Allen contractor turned whistleblower/leaker, publicly revealed the previously unknown scope of the massive NSA PRISM domestic and international spying program. Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii, is now seeking asylum in Latin America. The Snowden revelations has caused governments around the world to reevaluate their communications procedures.

[image credit: Etan J. Tal]