Information Security, Russian style

The Russian Federal Guard service have purchased six typewriters to use to write secret documents in order to prevent them being leaked electronically, ala Wikileaks. Each of the typewriters has a different pattern of type allowing any documents produced to be traced to the individual typewriter.

Russia Reverts to Typewriters To Fight Leaks from Defence News

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Nick London
Nick London
July 17, 2013 1:43 pm

What happened to those sit up and beg army typewriters? Are they in a depot somewhere? We air-freighted a pair to Hong Kong (1986?) (minus the ribbons that were a fire hazard) only to find that HK Garrison used a non-compatible ribbon, so we had to borrow two of their typewriters.

Presumably the Peoples Revolutionary Army either use word processors or they can road/rail freight their ribbons.:-)

July 17, 2013 1:56 pm

Wordprocessor. Hard to find a typewriter that can handle Chinese hieroglyphics. :)

July 17, 2013 2:17 pm

I expect the Health & Safety experts (fine sensible fellows all) will ultimately work out that people are 1) unpredictable, 2) capable of devious behaviour, 3) significant factors in most disasters, and ultimately 4) quite flammable. Then H&S Officers will have no alternative but to ban people from all aircraft, all public transport, all public places and all government offices. Also because of the uncontrollable nature of people they must be banned from anything involving self-determination – no driving, no cycle-riding, no working, definitely no inventing, no cooking, no walking in public. We will be allowed to vegetate in our padded cells watching endless repeats of bland sitcoms while being fed on tepid soup. Think how safe we will all be!

Alternatively, we can recognize that life is risky, that we each need to take responsibility for our own well-being and the well-being of those around us, and we can have a life full of experience and interest at the cost of the occasional accident.

I can see which way the world is going and which way I want to go – sadly these are not the same.

Just what damage would a typical typewriter ribbon no doubt stored in a tin can do to a big fat aircraft? Was the individual responsible for the decision not to allow typewriter ribbons on board given a promotion to reward such diligence?


July 17, 2013 2:50 pm


Some time ago the US army got spoofed by requests to know how it was treating a dangerous chemical it held large stores of. it was:-

Highly flammable and even explosive above certain temperatures*, and fatal if inhaled.

Lots of emails and questions as to why the army were holding such large stocks and production facilities for this chemical dihydrogen, oxide were flying around. Until someone pointed out dihrdrogen oxide was water…..

* above about 1500c (I think) the Oxygen and hydrogen separate and then you have highly inflammable hydrogen with a ready made oxygen supply… at a temperature above the ignition point of the hydrogen. all in all not good. Whci is why your not supposed to put it on reactor fires. but that did not stop us with Winscale or the Russians with Chernobyl.

July 17, 2013 2:52 pm

On a more serious note is everything electronic can be leaked, hacked, detected etc.

Does the title of genius await the first military commander who says ‘chuck it all away lads and get back to pigeons, dispatch riders and semaphore’…..

Peter Elliott
July 17, 2013 2:58 pm

“He shot my speckled Jim!”

‘chuck it all away lads and get back to pigeons, dispatch riders and semaphore’…..

Jeremy M H
July 17, 2013 3:01 pm

It is really the same old tradeoffs everyone has always had to make. Is it more important to have data accessible and actionable or to have it secure? Generally doing one directly lessens your ability to do the other. So much data is generated anymore than trying to hide it all in this manner may make you more vulnerable rather than less as crucial information is not distributed when and where it needs to be.

July 17, 2013 3:11 pm

Jeremy H

if there is such a thing as a real life Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, it would be something like,

Just because we can collect this date does not mean we should or it is any use..

In my line of work the most ridiculous amounts of data have to be collected in order to do bugger all.

it may be that the title of genius awaits the commander who says ‘You know what guys I am going to leave the smaller unit commanders to worry about a lot of this rather than try and deal with it centrally’ and thus reduce the amount of ‘traffic’.

July 17, 2013 3:13 pm

Sorry just tried to post and it said I had duplicated it so try again.


Perhaps we should be looking to reduce our info flow to strictly what is necessary, more decisions made at lower levels etc…

El Sid
El Sid
July 17, 2013 3:32 pm

The name of that genius is Paul van Riper, of Millennium Challenge 02 fame :

July 17, 2013 3:35 pm

El, not enough of a Genius :) A real one would go “The enemy wants this info. Anyone here know how to program a virus?” :P

Jeremy M H
July 17, 2013 4:00 pm

That is the great challenge of all such systems really. If it was easy then everyone would be doing it. Determining what moves up and down the chain and how far is a massive undertaking in a theoretical sense and there are no “right” answers to be had.

@El Sid

Van Riper is an interesting guy but there are very much two sides to what went on in that exercise. His gets a lot of attention because it is nice and dramatic.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
July 17, 2013 4:17 pm

Don’t laugh at the Russians. They may be on to something.

1. Years ago in the late 80s I was the crypto / secret docs custodian for my Regiment (oh the joys of filling in F102s and mustering and page checking documents). There was a need for a new Op Order for WW3, so the Colonel and the Ops Officer huddled themselves away in total secrecy for a few weeks and one copy was produced, marked TS, and handed over to me for my safekeeping in the Keep, a concrete and metal encased room that was my little dungeon to keep all of the secret things in. And, a used typewriter ribbon. Apparently, the security instructions were that the ribbon was to be treated as TS, as in theory you could read what it had typed out if you unrolled it all and held it up to the light or something. I said I would destroy it, and entirely predictably, the Int Corps had a defined procedure. It was to be cut into one inch strips and then burned, supervised by a witness. Given that it was a TS typewriter ribbon, the witness had to be an officer of Field Rank (ie a Major or better). What a waste of the Queen’s money it was for that day to require me and the Regimental 2IC to spend 4 hours doing that.

2. Several years later, I was running G3 Ops for 1st (UK) Armd Div, and so worked in a secure office behind a large electronic grille. There was on the wall a little curtain with a drawstring, and behind it a proper oil painting of a large open valley somewhere west of the Harz Mountains in West Germany. Quite a pleasant little painting , about 18 inches by 12, in a gilt frame, with a little brass plaque. On the plaque was engraved “The Divisional Vital Ground”, and top and bottom of the canvas were handlettered on in bright red paint the words “TOP SECRET”, and in the lower right corner “Copy 1 of 1”.

It really was the Divisional Vital Ground, painted by the previous Chief of Staff’s wife, and left to the HQ by him as a parting gift. It was properly recorded in the F102 as well.

July 17, 2013 4:26 pm

RT, you didn’t need to hold it to the light, just unwind the ribbon. It keeps an impression of the keys that hit it and in what sequence, so all you had to do was write down everything on the ribbon, then add spacing to recreate the whole document. The modern day version of it would be keylogging viruses.

July 17, 2013 6:42 pm

I certainly did not post comments intent on a thoroughly thought out OPSEC system for C3!

I was more chuckling to myself, thinking of rooms full of computers at GCHQ type buildings around the world full of clever buggers, satellites, and fiber optics:- looking at a picture of a Russian high security area and its resolutely un world wide web, un connected manual typewriters. And thinking errrrr…

disgusted grange over sands
disgusted grange over sands
July 17, 2013 8:12 pm

Sometime in the 70’s all of the then British Gas Grid Controls were required to identify locations in their high pressure gas transmission systems that were key risks.

A consolidated document was produced for the whole British Gas system and issued to all Grid Controls .

The then Chairman, who was the legendary Dennis Rook, received a courtesy copy which he read and declared it to be the ’F……in Bombers Guide to British Gas’ and all copies were withdrawn PDQ.

It was then only issued to those with clearance which at that time I was not – I often commented that I prepared work I was not allowed to see.

All regions then had to do the staff work on clearances and I and other Grid Staff could then see what a was then an essential document.

July 18, 2013 10:29 am

No doubt the typed copy will be scanned and emailed or perhaps faxed.