x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Gentlemen, start your anti-hacking software

Formula One teams will not only be battling it out on the track today. They will also take the fight to cyberspace.

Formula One teams will not only be battling it out on the track today. They will also be fighting to protect the digital data about their cars and tactics that can make the difference between pole position and the pits.

Computers have become critical to F1, as they control everything from starting the car to assessing thousands of race variables that are fed back through up to 200 sensors on a vehicle.

And at today's Abu Dhabi race, competitors, in partnership with internet security companies, are using software that controls whether any type of information is allowed to be emailed, be burned on to CDs or make its way on to devices such as tablets.

"They control where the data is moving and they ensure that it's not being leaked out, intentionally or unintentionally," says Johnny Karam, the regional director for Symantec, which works with the Lotus Renault F1 team. Teams are also employing methods such as encrypting digital information on F1 team members' laptops or smartphones to make sure that if a device is stolen or lost, no one else will be able to access that data.

The sport has become better at safeguarding information, ever since the 2007 espionage scandal in which the McLaren team was found to be in possession of confidential Ferrari technical information.

A scandal of that magnitude has not rocked the sport since, but teams are still taking the protection of their data seriously.

"The stakes are high," says Graeme Hackland, the chief information officer for the Lotus Renault F1 team.

"When you're struggling or you've got a team like we have now, who is very dominant, and everyone is trying to catch them, we all want to know, what are they doing so different?

"These guys are half-a-second quicker than the second place."

It is not just about data leaking out, but it also what data makes its way into the teams.

Information technology engineers and software developers who move jobs to work for rival F1 teams are asked to sign a "clean-hands" document forbidding bringing any information with them to their new team. F1 teams find this especially tricky to control.

But the consequences for a team that is caught with a rival's data is expulsion from the race.

"It's not only about your own intellectual property going out, which is sometimes a lot easier to protect," says Mr Hackland. "With other people's intellectual property coming in, it's a lot more tricky to detect and stop."

gvanzyl@thenational.ae

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