IT Team Seeks Olympic Gold

A multinational group of technology professionals builds an infrastructure to handle the demands of security and distributing information worldwide
A row of computers stand ready in the Olympics technology operations center for use by members of the IT team who monitor systems performance.

A row of computers stand ready in the Olympics technology operations center for use by members of the IT team who monitor systems performance.
It's another place where proven technology rules. "All our [games-management] applications are constantly updated--technically and functionally," Philipps says. "But the core piece has been used in all the games in the past, since the 1992 Barcelona Games."

Wide area networking is provided by the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization, the national Greek phone company, mainly over existing fiber cabling in place in Athens.

One area that did need upgrading from past games was the security technology. There are grave concerns that terrorists may launch attacks during these games, so Philipps decided to beef up the security tools. When his team reviewed the security systems used in Salt Lake City, they realized that those systems reported a large number of alarms.

When the number of security alarms reported during the Winter Games were extrapolated to the Summer Games, which are three times as large, it was "having around 200,000 alarms a day related to security," Philipps says. "But most of them were 'false positives,' which means they were just warnings and not real alarms."

Having 200,000 security alarms a day would be unmanageable for the IT team. Atos Origin implemented a security-monitoring system called the eTrust Security Command Center from Computer Associates. The system filters, aggregates, correlates, and prioritizes security data and reports that come from the networks, firewalls, intrusion-detection systems, and other devices and systems. It's designed to help reduce the 200,000 daily alarms to what Philipps hopes will be between 10 and 50 alarms.

"The security posture is complete and accurate only if it's based on information coming from all the systems parts of the games environment," Philipps says. "The size and complexity of the games network and the amount of raw logging data are impossible to handle without automated analysis."

Of course, cybersecurity is just one part of the job. The IT team is involved in physical security as well. Atos Origin is providing each member of the Olympics with an accreditation badge. The badge will allow members to enter a venue and specific zones within the venue, such as the field-of-play zone, the press zone, media center, training rooms, and the "back-of-house" zone.


Based on experience at past Olympics, IT staffers at this year's games developed guiding principles

Develop the overall technology architecture as early as possible to ensure better security

Test and retest to eliminate the likelihood of failure

Lock down server ports to prevent outsiders from gaining access

Use established technology to reduce the chances of problems

Data: Atos Origin

The security systems are the basics that can monitor and manage known security problems. The more difficult job is to provide security systems that can help with unanticipated problems. This year, the Olympics are using software from Autonomy Corp., which is working with systems integrator Science Applications International Corp., to create a knowledge-management system to collect and analyze a wide range of data that could provide hints about potential security problems. Autonomy's Intelligent Data Operating Layer system collects, stores, and analyzes text, voice, and video information; ranks the main concepts; and categorizes, links, and summarizes the content to make it easier to understand.

Information will feed into the system from a variety of sources, including thousands of security personnel. "It links the content, making it very easy to search, and it alerts people about the information that comes in," says Dominic Johnson, Autonomy's chief marketing officer. The company's software also is being used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to analyze and correlate data.

Autonomy's technology automatically analyzes intelligence data gathered by the different organizations involved in the security of the games, Johnson says. The system is able to extract the meaning from any piece of digital content, categorize and automate it, and distribute it across departments in the Security Division of the Olympics Committee.

"We're taking the content and making it available to every single department," Johnson says. "We want to let the security and investigative people perform their jobs without having them perform information management, in which they don't specialize." The system's main job is to alert security personnel to potential threats that can be gleaned from the data they all feed into the central pool of information.

"When you're dealing with security, it can have potentially lethal effects if you do it wrong," Johnson says. "By having an automated infrastructure, you can respond to alerts in real time and hopefully avert any potential disaster."

Once the games are over, most of the systems used will be packed up and shipped back to the providers. But not everything. Philipps says Athens will benefit from an improved networking infrastructure. The city will gain an enhanced WAN, and upgraded local area networks and mobile phone infrastructure. The IT legacy that the Olympics will leave in Athens, Philipps says, will remain long after the games are over.

This story was updated June 10.

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