Russian Security Now Using Typewriters to Thwart the NSA

Russian Security Now Using Typewriters to Thwart the NSA

Looks like the Luddites at Russia’s Federal Guard Service are headed back to the pre-digital age. The agency, which guards Russian officials — the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service — is placing an order for typewriters, according to Russian newspapers Izvestia and the Moscow Times. The reason? Information security.

"After the scandal with the circulation of classified documents by Wikileaks, the revelations made by Edward Snowden and reports that [Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev’s phone was tapped during his visit to the G-20 summit in London, it has been decided to expand the use of paper documents," a Russian official reportedly told Izvestia.

The Russian government has approved $15,000 for the purchase of new typewriters for the Federal Guard Service, along with new ink ribbons for older-model machines. (It seems like a lot of money for antiquated word processors, but it’s not unheard of. A quick search shows this top-of-the-line Swintec still costs nearly a grand, and the new Triumph-Adler T 180s, for which Russia is ordering replacement ink, sell for over $260.)

Izvestia cites experts who say that typewriters are still used by several Russian ministries and security services, and, Radio Free Europe notes, "the typewriters in question are designed for printing classified documents, in that each machine has unique ‘handwriting’ that can be traced back to the source."

But there are reasons Russia entered the digital age in the first place — hard copies can be lost and are still difficult to transport quickly and securely. And 20 typewriters doesn’t mean Russia’s diplomatic security is getting offline entirely. Still, it’s a serious step, and a sign of how leakers and espionage in the digital age are making governments wary all over again.