Hall of the Mountain of Data King

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Hall of the Mountain of Data King
| Published March 14, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff

Data is more valuable than cash, at least to some in the growing field of digital security and business data protection.

Somewhere under hundreds of feet of stone and concrete, in tomb-like bunkers illuminated by fluorescent lights, companies and individuals are paying premium prices to store their most cherished digital data out of reach—they hope—from hackers, criminals and marketplace adversaries. Most of those bunkers, many of which are in Switzerland, were designed decades ago to withstand nuclear blasts and survive through the resulting fallout. And in those days the real objective was to protect the printed documents, cash and precious metals of corporations and mega-investors willing to cache part of their assets deep underneath the pristine, idyllic mountains of the snow-capped Alps.

But for most major companies and investment billionaires, cash is cheap—and even expendable—when compared to electronic data.

According to Bloomberg, liquid assets have been rapidly supplanted in these largely empty bunkers by computers—most of them stand-alone workstations—and powerful file servers able to contain vast volumes of critical information. One such company that manages digital storage is WISeKey SA, which is investing in racks and servers which will soon fill vast underground spaces once set aside for glittery things like gold and silver. There, company execs or their carefully-screened reps can access data by using a multipart key which would require—much in the same way that a Swiss bank account or a safe deposit box works now—two or more parties to gain access to the computer or server.

By keeping the computers offline and disconnected from internet traffic, data could be kept secret and out of reach of criminals, hackers or industrial sabotage.

And the advantage of housing such data in Switzerland is obvious: the same stringent Swiss privacy laws that currently protect the anonymity of clients who bank in Zurich or Geneva would also apply to the privacy of their valuable data.

WISeKey has numerous competitors, and many business analysts believe that the demand for data storage will increase exponentially over the next decade, especially as the value of digital information greatly outweighs cash or precious metals. Those companies now routinely hawk their wares at major economic conferences and confabs worldwide, and plan to increase their marketing efforts in the very wide, public wake of recent events—such as Edward Snowden’s unfolding revelations about the NSA, recent cyber-attacks on banks and news agencies, and the massive data breaches of major U.S. retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus.

If retail customer credit card data and cell phone records can be so easily hacked or harvested, what’s to keep billions in assets and thousands of pages of critical business information from falling into the hands of criminals, or being stolen by the hackers of business adversaries?

Still, there are those who question the realism of such a logistically complicated and costly form of storage. One computer analyst we spoke to, who wished to remain unnamed in our article because of his contract work with a few U.S. banks, suggested that data can be just as easily stored offline on any basic business computer or file server in a secure room, using the same—if not better—multipart keys and administrative access.

“It’s overkill,” he said, explaining that there are plenty of prudent and smart ways to protect sensitive data now that do not require blast doors and concrete walls 11 feet thick. “It’s a lot like burying your silverware in the backyard.”

“Unless you’re sitting at the keyboard, you can’t hack into a computer or server that is not connected to anything other than power,” he said, “and placing it deep underground serves no long-term purpose other than to protect it from a nuke…or the apocalypse.”

In which case, force majeure, and all bets are off. Unless, that is, you have found a way to take that data with you.