Russian security service gets old school to protect secrets

Jul 12, 2013
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The recent allegations over the widespread extent of the America’s surveillance program have prompted Russia to regress to a more low-tech alternative to computers—typewriters.

The Federal Protection Service (FSO), successor to the KGB, posted an order online for 20 typewriters along with a variety of materials including ribbons and cartridges, according to The Wall Street Journal’s “Emerging Europe” blog.

Although the FSO has not yet commented on the order, an anonymous official cited the alleged tapping of then-President Dmitry Medvedev’s phone during the London G-20 Summit as a leading factor in the turn to typewriters. The same source also said that more orders are likely in the near future.

The main advantage of the typewriter of the computer is its disconnectedness.

Nikolai Kovalev, former FSO head, said, “From the point of view of ensuring security, any form of electronic communication is vulnerable. Any information can be taken from computers. Of course there are means of protection, but there is no 100-percent guarantee they will work. So from the point of view of keeping secrets, the most primitive method is preferred: a human hand with a pen or a typewriter,” USA Today reports.

Another advantage of using typewriters is that each has a unique signature that allows experts to identify the machine that a document was typed on, a useful way to prevent security breaches through fear of persecution.

The typewriters ordered are Triumph Adler and are portable, electric and have both Russian and Latin typefaces. The estimated total cost is around $15,000.

The FSO source reports that many Russian government organizations never made the switch to electronic documents in the first place. The source adds that the daily intelligence reports for President Vladimir Putin are now being changed to a paper format.

Photo courtesy Alexxx Malev, creative commons

About the Author

Molly Jane Zuckerman

Molly Zuckerman is an editorial intern at Transitions Online. She attends Wesleyan University and plans to jointly major in Russian Studies and Comparative Politics.

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