Enter the maze

Cyber Security at the Movies: Rogue One (Part I: Physical Security)

by Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London

[Spoiler Alert]


In a galaxy far, far away cyber security matters quite a lot. So much so, in fact, that the whole film Rogue One is about it. The plot is all about the bad guys trying to keep their plans secret, and the good guys trying to steal them.

The film fills the glaring gap in our knowledge about why in Star Wars the Empire had built a weapon the size of a planet, only to then leave a fatal flaw in it that meant it could be destroyed...Then worse they let the rebels get hold of the plans to said Death Star so they could find the flaw. Protecting information is everything.

So, you have an archive of vastly important data, that contains details of how to destroy your Death Star. What do you do with it to keep the information secure? Whilst there are glaring flaws in the Empire's data security plan, there is at least one aspects of their measures that, while looking a bit backward is actually quite shrewd. They use physical security. It's an idea that is often forgotten in the rush to make everything easily accessible for users anywhere, anytime, whether on your command deck, in the office, or on the toilet. That of course applies to hackers too. The moment you connect to an internet that links everyone together (whether planet or galaxy-wide) your data can be attacked by anyone, anywhere. Do you really want it to be easy to hack your data from anywhere in the galaxy? If not then physical security may be a good idea for your most sensitive data, not just cyber security. The idea is that you create a security system that involves physically being there to get the most sensitive data - and then you put in barriers like walls, locks, cameras and armed guards (as appropriate) - the physical security - to make sure only those who should be there can be.

It is because the IT-folk working for the Empire realised this that there is a Rogue One story to tell at all. Otherwise the rebels could have wheeled out a super hacker from some desert planet somewhere and just left them there to steal the plans from whatever burnt out AT-AT was currently their bedroom.

Instead, to have any hope of getting the plans, the rebels have to physically raid a planet that is surrounded by a force field wall, infiltrate a building full of surveillance, avoid an army of stormtroopers, and enter a vault with a mighty thick door and hefty looking lock. That's quite a lot of physical security!

It gets worse for the rebels though. Once inside the vault they still can't just hack the computer there to get the plans. It is stored in a tower with a big gap and massive drop between you and it. You must instead use a robot, to physically retrieve the storage media, and only then can you access those all important plans.

Pretty good security on paper. Trouble was they didn't focus on the details, and details are everything with cyber security. Security is only as strong as the weakest link. Even leaving aside how simple it was for a team of rebels to gain access to the planet undetected, enter the building, get to the vault, get in the vault, ... that highly secure vault then had a vent in the roof that anyone could have climbed through, and despite being in an enormous building purpose-built for the job, that gap to the data was just small enough to be leapt across. Oh well. As we said detail is what matters with security. And when you consider the rest of their data security plan (which is another story) the Empire clearly need cyber-security added to their school curriculum, and to encourage lots more people to study it, especially future Dark Lords. Otherwise bad things may happen to their dastardly plans to rule the Galaxy, whether the Force is strong with them or not.