I always imagined Las Vegas had data vaults buried deep beneath the casino floors. I dreamed that the perimeter network would be so secure that stealing data would require physical access and the skills of George Clooney’s heist team in “Ocean’s Eleven” … or maybe Tom Cruise would have to drop down from the ceiling like in “Mission Impossible.”
I blame the movies. The truth is that two different stories about data security in Las Vegas – one about business tech, the other about gambling tech.
Business Data … Just Like You And Me
Las Vegas is a great location for datacenters. It’s one of the driest major cities in the US – so humidity and floods are a low risk. Yes, keeping cool is a challenge, but Nevada also has utility rates about 10% below average. That’s why there are ten public datacenters in the area. You might even be using a Vegas datacenter now as a point-of-presence for your business.
For things like business operations, marketing, eCommerce, and human resources – the Las Vegas technical landscape looks a lot like any other. In fact, the major casinos utilize the same datacenters as other businesses in the area. Those datacenters are on a par with the rest of the world with regard to physical and network security.
But if you are looking for super-secret casino data vaults and gun-toting Mafioso guarding the doors, you’ll likely be disappointed. Aside from a few caged-off areas with no identifiable signage, those datacenters are virtually identical to the ones we all know.
Welcome to Las Vegas – The Biggest Target on the Internet!
But if you think that you worry about hackers and attackers, you’ve seen nothing yet. That’s because Las Vegas is Candyland for every black-hat hacker on the web.
Las Vegas welcomes more than 43 million visitors each year. They maintain accounts, transfer funds, store digital currency, sell them meter-long alcoholic drinks, coordinate travel arrangements for rich thrill-seekers, and have tens of thousands of employees to serve them. In so doing they collect tens of billions of dollars each year and gather vast amounts of personal and financial information … and every byte and dollar is connected to the internet.
This makes Las Vegas one of the largest hacker targets in the world.
• Last year The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino was breached … twice … with a net impact estimated at $40 million.
• Affinity Gaming was also hit hard last year. They’re keeping the details confidential.
• In 2014 the famous Sands Hotel suffered a “major” cyber-attack. The details were “not disclosed.”
These are just the incidents we’ve heard of. Las Vegas is extremely protective of their image so – whether it is a blue-collar smash and grab, a white-collar gambling cheat, or a byte-collar server hack – news reports of any casino crime are rare. The point is, when it comes to things like malware, phishing, skimming, and hacking, all those high-dollar casinos fight the same kinds of battles we do every single day. They just fight off a lot more of them for higher stakes.
The Casino Floor Is Where Tech Gets Crazy
But when it comes to capturing thieves and cheats at the gambling tables, Las Vegas puts up a security net tighter than some government agencies.
• Facial Recognition – All those fancy high-speed facial recognition systems you see on TV? They’ve got them – linked to nationwide database of known crooks and cheaters. They have a private Las Vegas network so if one casino tags a known card counter, everyone in town knows at the same time.
• High-Def Everywhere – Those facial recognition systems need really good images. Nearly every square inch in the casino is monitored by high-resolution cameras. Not even George Orwell imagined the capacity of “Casino Big Brother” to watch and record your every move.
• RFID Chips – If you have a $100 or larger casino chip in your hands, it likely has an RFID chip inside. If you’re a high-rollers at the Baccarat table, the guys in the security office KNOW exactly how many chips you have in front of you and sensors track chip movement in real time.
• Behavioral Analysis Software – The casinos use advanced behavioral analysis software to detect suspicious behavior. One of those – called NORA (Non-Obvious Relationship Analysis) – detects when people are pretending to NOT know each other. And we think that’s kind of creepy.
• Counter-Surveillance – The bad guys are using High-tech these days. So casinos now deploy counter-surveillance technology – including signal jammers, camera detectors, and sonic tools that “listen” for the sounds of other devices.
All of these systems and security devices generate petabytes of data each year and are managed from on-site security control centers that look like a NOC command center.
To sum up, there are no secret data vaults or special cyber-defenses in the business datacenters. But when it comes to protecting the gaming tables, Las Vegas has the technology and security of a small nation. And I can’t wait to see it all in person!