Analysis: Why data security is becoming a buzzword in F1

Formula 1's ever-increasing reliance on high-speed data transmission has inevitably led to a growing need by teams to ensure that what they are sending from car to garage, and garage to factory is secure.

Analysis: Why data security is becoming a buzzword in F1

It is no wonder therefore that a number of data security and data protection-related partners have arrived in F1 in the last few months.

Motorsport.com recently looked at the role that Kaspersky had had in fighting off hackers during its long partnership with Ferrari, while new arrivals Acronis – which has joined forces with Toro Rosso – has a different responsibility in ensuring that its data is never lost.

So what is data security?

According to John Zanni, chief marketing officer at Acronis, data protection and data security are a bit like medicine.

"If you think about it, you do a lot of preventative work to make sure you don't get sick or you don't end up at the doctors or in the hospitals, yet there are still doctors in hospitals because it does happen," he said.

"Then it's not preventative; you have to cure and recover, and in that case you want to do it as quickly as possible so you're fully functional.

"The methodology is the same when it comes to security and data protection. Now not all of this is covered by our organisation. Obviously how you secure a network is the purview of companies -- Cisco and others -- that specialise in that.

"But the first step is really to make sure your data's encrypted, that you have control over your data, you know where it is all times, you have the ability to manage it, delete it and recover it if you lose it.

"There's a control aspect of your data so that you make sure that you don't lose it and that you can manage it completely. There's a second, and those are some of the preventative measures, and then also you can work with anti-virus, anti-spam companies - Kaspersky is an example, they're a sponsor of Ferrari - that allow you to have some of those preventative measures.

"The other side is what happens if something goes wrong? You will need to be able to recover quickly, and this is where backup plays a strong role.

"You have to think about the amount of data going through the wire, compressing it, how long it takes to compress it, how long is takes to move it over the wire, how often do you do incremental backups or continuous backups? And there is another set of problems that we frankly haven't, as an industry, completely solved.

"This can be the obvious: a piece of hardware goes down, or you lose connectivity and you need your data, and so you end up grabbing a backup and either downloading the data and restarting or literally running your backup in a virtualised environment, which is something we do today."

Why Formula 1?

For Acronis, when it came to finding a partner which could both boost its global profile while keeping the company on its innovative toes, Formula 1 provided the obvious solution.

"In terms of data protection, what they're doing and what they need is industry leading and cutting edge," says Zanni. "So it will essentially give us an opportunity to innovate even faster than we do today.

"One of the examples that I like using is that F1 team builds essentially 40 cars every year, and the car that they build at the end of the race season is quite different than the car that they had at the beginning, so their cycle of innovation is very, very rapid.

"That means that if you're going to be a partner with one of these teams, your cycle of innovation has to be as rapid. And so for us, we wanted to be able to take on that challenge. What you'll see over time is how we've innovated in our products to really meet the needs of an F1 racing team.

"Frankly the market we're in is a highly fragmented market with a lot of players and sponsoring a sport like F1 just makes us stand out in the crowd. It's a pure marketing activity to get people to look at who we are and what we do.

"We chose F1 because when it comes to data protection and backup and security, being a leader in technology and being fast – because these are activities that are usually done in the background – are key and that's aligned with what F1 represents; the latest in technology, as well as the speed.

"On top of that, we felt that F1 is a sport that's highly competitive and requires a lot of difficult hard work to win and achieve their goals. It requires teamwork and this is also aligned with us as a company. So we really wanted to sponsor an activity with a sport that was really aligned with our company's philosophy. "

While the sport in general has its appeal, according to Zanni, Acronis chose to work with Toro Rosso specifically, as the two brands share common values.

"One of the reasons we chose Toro Rosso is because of the fact that they're quite an approachable team and willing to work together for both of us to win frankly – it's more of a partnership than a sponsorship – and I've been to the factory, I've toured the factory. We're kicking off a series of projects that will look at improving their data protection along with them.

"[Part of the appeal] is just the connection with a team that is growing and is really solid and one that we wanted to grow with. Our plan is to sponsor them for a long time and grow with them. For us, [parent company] Red Bull is an alignment with our customer base. We have a lot of techies and geeks that use our product and it's a very well-known brand within that audience."

The proving ground

Despite Acronis' years of experience, the nature of Formula 1 - particularly the physical movements of the travelling circus - means that supporting Toro Rosso as it moves from circuit to circuit is no walk in the park.

"In an ideal world, you'll harden an environment, which ranges all the way from the network to the hardware, the configuration up to the applications," he says. "Once you've got it hardened and you know it's secure, the rule is you don't touch it.

"And if you're going to upgrade some software or change some hardware, you spend a lot of time in a test lab making sure that you don't introduce a security hole essentially into your hardened network.

"Now what Toro Rosso have done is they've said, 'we're in an environment where we're producing tons of data'. Toro Rosso produces 700TB of data in a race weekend that they use to analyse their performance and react on. and you take that data and now you say, 'we're going to put it in 22 different environments in the period of about ten months.'

"With different networks, temporary networks -- they're a combination of satellite, cable, cyber -- and they need to continue to not only have it be secure but also reliable. That does increase the complexity tremendously around the you ensure that you essentially have a portable hardened environment."

F1 is all about challenges though – and in overcoming those it helps technology move on fast.

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