Cybersecurity: How a layered approach keeps this F1 team's data secure

Haas F1 uses layers of protection to help give the Formula 1 racing team a competitive advantage.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor on

Gary Foote, CIO at Rich Energy Haas F1, says information is critical to the success of the Formula 1 racing team – and that's why the establishment of a data security strategy is one his key business priorities.

"We're in a competitive sport, so our asset is the data that helps make us more reliable and quicker on a circuit," he says. "The data that we're generating – from conception in design, to being used creatively by partners, and onto the race track – is crucial and we have a complex data model where information is flying all over the place but must be kept secure."

Foote says his organisation is focused on two main types of data: business information, such as finance figures and HR records; and the product information relating to the car, which is best-described as Haas F1's intellectual property.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

He says both of these data types are "hugely important" and must be managed across a dispersed geography: "We've got data movement all over the place and, as a result, data security becomes a bigger challenge than it might be for other organisations and even some of the other teams in F1."

Haas F1 has an operations centre in the UK, where Foote is primarily based, and an office in the US, which houses the firm's sister racing team, Stewart-Haas Racing. There are two additional centres relating to design partners in Italy, and the team also maintains a mobile operation that moves around the globe fulfilling race-day duties.

One of the main explanations for that geographical dispersal is the team's business model. In an attempt to keep costs low, Foote says the model relies on outsourcing as much non-core expertise as possible.

"And when you outsource expertise, by definition you outsource data," he says. "Our data movement strategy is complex – overly complex to a degree. As an example, our computational fluid dynamic specialists are based in the US office, but they use a high-performance computing cluster based in the UK, and we provided the results from that platform to aerodynamicists who are based in Italy."

It's Foote responsibility as the team's CIO to ensure that there is adequate protection for the Haas F1 brand and its assets on a global scale. His approach has been to create a business strategy for data security that aims to neutralise the complex geographical structure of the business.

"We're looking for strong layers of protection placed strategically, with good vendor and product selection. We want to create a sensibly layered strategy, where products complement each other," says Foote.


Foote: "We want to create a sensibly layered strategy, where products complement each other."

Image: Haas F1

Technology partnerships can play a key role in F1. The sport is heavily dependent on its corporate sponsors, yet Foote describes his team as "completely vendor agnostic" when it comes to technology suppliers. 

"We have the freedom and finances to deploy the products that we want to. Rather than having a confined tool box, we're able to collect the products to use for the problem we're trying to solve. But it's really important that they complement each other," says Foote, who says the products his team chooses must fit his security strategy.

"Layers are great but we also need to keep a check on compatibility and complexity. I talk to my guys quite a lot about the problems you introduce into IT when you create complexity. It's not good having a hugely redundant disaster recovery network if it's so over-complex that when it breaks it's impossible to fix. By making things simpler, you can make things better."

One of the key products Foote has chosen to implement recently is Nominet's NTX cybersecurity platform to help keep the team's data networks secure. The technology analyses domain name system (DNS) traffic to predict, detect and block threats to the network before they cause harm.

"We want to add layers to protect our data from threats coming in and threats going out, such as best-intended user actions that might accidentally lead to malware," he says. "We've got to continually stay at the leading edge of security technology."

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Foote says the selection process was driven by going to market and seeing who was able to offer products and services that can bolster the team's security strategy. The organisation's policy for system implementation is to leave race-day systems until last, preferring the technology to be proven in a business environment first.

The Nominet DNS platform, which has now been in place for about six months, analyses and categorises potentially billions of queries in its attempts to eliminate malware, phishing and data theft from the network. Foote is already seeing business benefits. "Nominet are putting a sets of eyes on a huge amount of traffic that I physically don't have the manpower internally to do," he says. 

Foote refers to cybersecurity as "an ever-changing landscape" and says Haas F1 must keep up with the latest trends. When new security technologies emerge, Foote wants his team to analyse these tools and to investigate how these layers might help block actors who might want to do harm.

"The key thing for me is security – and it's almost number one in terms of our technical remit here. F1 is incredibly fast-paced and the worry is less about data going to competitors and more about exposure to individuals who want to use it as a platform for their own gain. Being a global company in a global sport on a global stage means we're quite a target. Any security technology that's learning as we go is a big benefit to us," he says.

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