In a few movies and other media (including Rick & Morty) I’ve seen the scenario where someone needs to use nuclear launch codes or other important access information and in order to get it, they have to break open a small, rigid, flattish package, retrieving the code or instructions sealed inside.
Are these based on reality? If so, what are these things called? Google is not helping me this morning.
Bonus question: if the code is invisibly hidden inside, how can one be certain the thing hasn’t been swapped out for a replica, and the real code stolen?
Wikipedia says, first of all, they (Gold Codes) are replaced daily; second of all, the President has to memorize which are the real codes; third of all, obviously there are systems in place to prevent tampering such as simply swapping them out.
Also (generally speaking about the theory) unless someone has taken over the NSA facility which generates the authentication codes, you would not learn anything sensitive by stealing them, just a bunch of random numbers.
It’s difficult to find an answer on google. I suspect that the real answer is classified and the folks who know aren’t talking.
Wikipedia’s article on Gold Codes says that the codes are arranged in a column on a plastic card and that there is an opaque cover that has to be snapped in two. But the cite is just an online article about movie tropes, the trope being that there is a nuclear button that must be pushed. The snap open cover is claimed to be the real procedure in the article, but it’s not exactly authoritative cite.
Wikipedia’s article on the Nuclear Football says that the codes are on a 3x5 card with no mention of a breakable cover.
The cite is a 1980 book called Breaking Cover by Bill Gulley, the former director of the White House Military Office, which is much more authoritative. The break-open cover may just have been an omission though, possibly for security reasons. Also, procedures may have changed since 1980.
It’s also important to note that the codes are just part of the procedure for the President to authenticate himself. The military isn’t going to launch the nukes just because some idiot happens to give them a valid code.
Wikipedia also mentions that the list of codes contains unused fakes. The President has to memorize which codes are the real codes. Gaining access to the card isn’t enough.
I wasn’t able to find any information about whether the guys in the submarines or silos have similar break-open codes.
After some more poking around, I found this, the launch procedure for the old Titan missile system (no longer in use). Once you get to the codes, they are in an envelope and are printed on a small plastic card. There’s no break-open cover.
I find the idea that the President has to memorize anything to authenticate a launch order pretty far-fetched. What if in the heat of the moment (pun intended) she has a senior moment? I don’t see anyone
creating that situation. As I remember reading, the President is given a wallet card with authentication codes that he has to carry around. The military was really pissed when it was revealed that President Clinton lost his wallet for 6 months at the end of his term. But even then, the launch sequence would have happened, it was just some back-up routes were lost. At least that is what I read in the years since.
Going back to the OP that asks about the physical objects are, I have heard they are called “biscuits”. I guess think about how you open a biscuit to put butter and jam on it … or better yet honey. mmmmmmm. After his, I looked up ‘security code biscuit’ and the first link was the same as DPKR’s.
DPRK’s link to “gold codes” talks about that nickname as the card inside, not the tamper-evident casing that you need to snap so I think that is a wackypedia error. At best, I would say the “biscuit” is the whole shebangabang and not just the card with the codes.
As an information security professional, I’m fascinated by the levels and layers of message authentication with physical objects and the steps that all had to be done to enable a launch that were crafted decades ago.
My friend was USAF electronic tech for a missile base. He would go down into silos to check electronics but not everything was checked for each visit. One day one of the officers pulled a gun and asked why they did not check everything. The other officer was higher rank and ordered him to put the gun away. As you might imagine the guy with the gun was quickly moved out to some other job . Probably not at a missile base.
It’s a small world: I was just on the tour of that same Titan II facility a week ago. The spiel was similar, but our guide did say that the envelope with two letters contained a plastic slab that had to be snapped open to get the card out. Truth, or life imitating WarGames?
I can’t imagine that the president would have to memorize a string of numbers. What would happen if the president was really really stupid or a different president was pretty old and possibly mildly cognitively impaired. I would think what they would have to remember simple like the last two numbers are identical, or divisible by 6 or something really simple.