Floppy Disks Used To Trounce Data Security In Formula One.

For those who don’t know, this has been a very busy year for Formula One, not in terms of racing, but in terms of data theft.  Over the past Thanksgiving weekend I had seen a blurb in a small Brazilian article about McLaren accusing Renault of stealing secrets (Formula 1 racing in Brazil…I never realized that it was big until F1 driver Ayrton Senna got a funeral fit for a king back in 1994, when he died on the tracks from a head-on collision).  Anyhow, it turns out that theft is not what they’re accused of.  Rather, Renault was accused of possessing stolen secrets.  Secrets that belonged to McLaren-Mercedes.  Ironically enough, McLaren was accused of possessing stolen Ferrari designs and technology earlier this year.  What goes around, comes around.


What’s funny is that in both cases the data was delivered to each recipient team in floppy disks.  We’re talking about the 3.5” squarish, plastic things that couldn’t go near a magnet.  There’s some talk in the blogosphere (and blog comment-o-sphere) that this doesn’t sound right: eleven floppy disks were used in the McLaren-Renault account.  For those who don’t know, F1 teams are possessors of some of the latest, greatest technology.  Plus, I’ve even seen a picture of a gigantic treadmill used for a full scale F1 race car, as if it needed to go on a diet and lose some weight by burning some rubber on some (other) rubber.  You have to imagine that guys who can build and operate a treadmill designed for cars have plenty of moolah.  So, the floppy disk part sounds curious, apocryphal at best.  A holographic data storage module from Star Trek sounds more reasonable for these guys.


Except that floppy disks make sense in some respects.  Everyone involved in F1 happens to be very competitive.  The racers, yes, but also everyone else, including the engineers.  Let’s face it—if F1 engineers were the hippie-kind that wanted to bring harmony and peace to the world via machines, they wouldn’t be in the business of designing cars that require wings to stay on the ground; cost millions of dollars per car; and have the fuel efficiency of Hummers dragging an M1 Abrams Tank (this last one’s probably a misstatement on my part, actually.  Frequent pit stops for refueling means lost time, so my guess is that fuel efficiency can’t be that bad).  No, they’d be designing low-maintenance, easy-to-operate water pumps for distribution in Africa.  The point is, these particular engineers jealously guard their secrets.  They’d be prime candidates for AlertBoot, just in case someone decides to steal their servers—with cages and all.  But I get the feeling that they already have something similar to it protecting their computers.  Plus, because data and design leakage is always a worry, I’m betting that they’ve got software monitoring and controlling what devices can be connected to the different ports found on computers, just in case someone decides to steal designs using a 10 GB USB thumbdrive.


In fact, similar functions can be found in AlertBoot as well, where one can specify which devices can be connected to the computer.  It’s known as Port Control, and it can be tailored to fit different user profiles: For example, the waterboy cannot connect his USB drive to company machines; the owner can, but only to his office computer; the engineers can as well, to their computers as well as each other’s, but computer number three is off-limits to all USB drives.


Where do the floppy disks come in?  Well, if McLaren’s software does not have support for blocking floppy disk drives, then this pretty much becomes the only way to steal data.  How do you protect from something that you cannot recognize, right?  I guess Port Control found in AlertBoot would differ in some respects since you can white list or blacklist (or both) what gets access (or does not get access)—this way, anything that doesn’t fit the profile cannot be used.


Incidentally, hardware is also the reason why the government of Ohio was so, shall we say, cavalier about the implications of lost government tapes earlier this year: without the correct hardware, the tape is useless.  It’s like finding a Betamax tape when all you’ve got in your arsenal is DVD players.  You’d either have to raid Sony’s museum of failures or build your own Beta VCR in order to see the contents, which is no easy task.

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