Are Huge Data Centers Prime Targets For Attacks?

Apr 5, 2024
Are Huge Data Centers Prime Targets For Attacks?

Why Build Hyperscale Data Centers Given the Security Risks?

I found your article on the creation of mega data centers very interesting. In 2022, I had the pleasure of attending a small presentation in Los Alamos, NM on the need and development of nuclear fusion as a clean source of energy to meet the demands of a changing world. Since then I have taken an interest in what Rolls Royce is doing and have invested in the company. I know that companies like Microsoft have deep pockets, but what security issues do you foresee with housing such large scale data centers in one place, especially with all the crazies of the world? It seems that these data centers would become prime targets, given the power they will control in their space. That was a concern that was tied into current nuclear power production facilities. — Daniel S.

Hi Daniel,

That sounds like a very interesting meeting/presentation that you attended back in 2022. Right up my alley. And held in quite a historic spot. I recently watched the movie Oppenheimer — well done.

It’s hard not to think that we need the equivalent of the Manhattan Project for nuclear fusion. If the world were serious about clean energy, that’s exactly what would be happening right now.

Fortunately, the private markets have stepped up to fill that role.

And well done on Rolls Royce, the company has had a fantastic year. It’s a company that most equate to jet engines or fancy cars — but it is a massive conglomerate. Below is a snapshot from Rolls Royce’s 2023 strategic report.

Rolls Royce 2023 Strategic Report
Rolls Royce 2023 Strategic Report

Rolls Royce’s aerospace business is the largest, but it’s defense and power systems units are each about 4 billion British pounds each (about $5 billion US).

And as for your question about mega data centers — or hyperscale data centers — yes, absolutely they are targets for attacks. It’s precisely this reason that companies and governments run their software systems and maintain duplicates of their critical data in multiple locations. Not having resiliency and being reliant on only one data center is just asking for trouble.

But to your point, why build hyperscale data centers, given the risk? Two reasons:

  • Economics: It is more cost efficient to build larger data centers compared to several data centers that add us to the same level of a single mega data center with the same total computational and storage capacity. Scale brings down the cost per unit of computation and storage.
  • Performance: The closer (physically) computational systems are to one another, the higher the performance. This is particularly true for data centers designed for artificial intelligence training. Physical proximity is critical to maximizing performance.

And there are two kinds of security risks, aren’t there?

  • There is the risk of cyberattack. This can be entirely software-based and requires complex cybersecurity software and cybersecurity processes to protect against. And even then we can’t be 100% safe. And this also includes the risk of sophisticated social engineering attacks. Spies or any kind of bad actors can manipulate an employee of a company or data center in an effort to gain access to the data center.
  • To your point about the nuclear power production facilities, there is a risk to the physical infrastructure itself. Just imagine the use of explosives, or directed energy weapons, or targeted destruction of power supply infrastructure — all designed to cripple or destroy a data center. I believe that for critical data centers, we’ll start to see more sophisticated defense technology utilized to provide perimeter protection.  This is where the kind of autonomous aerial defense technology from companies like Anduril will come in very handy. Typically used for defense applications, I believe the technology will find a large market with commercial facilities that have mission critical systems/applications.
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