Each Formula 1 race weekend is essentially a pop-up event in a different city around the world, bringing together 10 teams, their cars and their entire mobile infrastructure in Australia, Singapore, Monaco and beyond. This weekend’s Las Vegas Grand Prix is particularly unpredictable, as it is the debut of Formula 1 in Sin City. Cold weather and unreliable drain cover on the track have already injected some chaos into the show. But as they prepared for the event, cybersecurity specialists from McLaren Racing, the city of Las Vegas and security firm Darktrace told WIRED they weren’t letting that deter them: all their work was to expect the unexpected.
Major live sporting events are a prime target for hackers because they are large, highly visible and attract international attention. Russia notorious attempt to target the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, for example, disruptive attacks and hacks aimed at gathering information were included. All sports now incorporate advanced elements of digital analysis and quantified performance, but Formula 1 is a particularly data-intensive sport. Race cars are essentially giant sensor networks that move at over 200 miles per hour, generating enormous amounts of information. The quicker teams can analyze the numbers from the track, the quicker they can determine strategies and modifications to use in real time or in preparation for the final race of the weekend. But a denial of service attack on one of a team’s engineering systems, one that disrupts their real-time communications, or theft of intellectual property, could be disastrous for an F1 team.
“We are a very public sport,” says Ed Green, head of business technology at McLaren. “Our people are known and where we race is known and what we do is known. And while there is a lot that is unknown about our operations, much of what we do is public so people can find information and start targeting us. So what we’re trying to do is make sure that security is part of the team and a complementary part of what we do.
Green describes McLaren’s setup at each race as “an extension of the office for the weekend.” The infrastructure is a kind of mobile data center where, for example, the ground team works remotely from the headquarters garage. This means that a crucial part of the entire operation is reducing the latency of the digital connection between the runway and home base – a geographic and network distance that varies significantly from weekend to weekend. ‘other as the season unfolds around the world. Green says that during Brazil’s race in Sao Paulo in early November, McLaren was connected to its headquarters in England just 223 milliseconds late.
“We pull 1.5 terabytes of data per weekend and run 50 million simulations over the course of a weekend. And I would divide the importance of cybersecurity into several different categories,” said Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren. “We own the design intellectual property for our race car, and these are highly confidential trade secrets that we move around a lot. We deal with third parties and run all over the world. And then we have all the data that’s happening on the race track, where we’re literally making split-second decisions.
Darktrace, which provides digital defense services for McLaren and has also worked for years with the city of Las Vegas on its cybersecurity, claims that phishing, business email compromiseand other scams are the types of attacks that its real-time, artificial intelligence-based threat monitoring system detects and blocks most often related to Formula 1, every day and during the weekends of race.