During last year’s winning season, baseball’s Detroit Tigers got proactive in defending their IT security network, reports Dan Kaplan.

It was sometime around the All-Star Break last summer, with baseball’s Detroit Tigers resting comfortably on top of the AL Central Division and the playoffs in sight, that Scott Wruble decided he had better start preparing for a throng of media that was sure to converge on Comerica Park come October.

Wruble, the director of IT for the Tigers, and his small staff — roughly the size of the team’s starting outfield — began negotiations to implement a DS3 internet connection. He and his team expected that 500 to 600 media personnel (and their potentially unguarded laptops) would attend each playoff game, five times the normal contingent of writers, broadcasters and photographers.

To support the additional network capacity, the Tigers also deployed Lancope’s StealthWatch M250 network intrusion solution to monitor for malware and unnecessary peer-to-peer file sharing — two culprits that potentially could grind a VLAN (virtual local area network) to a halt. Both products began running at the end of September, a few days before the playoffs started.

“We wanted to put technology in place that would isolate people and head off disruptions that would cause us issues,” Wruble says. “Our main goal is not to be in the press because we have bad internet connections. That’s something we’ve found the press will gripe about.”

After victories in the division and league championship series, the underdog Tigers wound up losing the World Series in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals, ending their improbable yet valiant run at immortality.

But Wruble and his team, whose network used to rely on a cable modem for connectivity and manual troubleshooting for problems (in a way mirroring the years of struggle by the Tigers on the field), declared victory.

Wruble and Jim Darrow, director of technical services for Ilitch Holdings, parent of the Tigers, say they only encountered a few minor incidents throughout the playoffs, but nothing that led to the network being compromised — a far cry from the problems that faced Comerica Park when it hosted the All-Star Game 2005.

“During the playoffs, we had a few viruses, and a couple of people wanted to set up their own access points,” Wruble says.

In one case, the solution helped flag an international broadcaster who was using Slingbox to deliver game highlights over the internet back to his office to determine whether the picture quality was acceptable, Wruble says. His IT staff responded, wanting to ensure the media member was not violating Major League Baseball broadcasting rights.

A Lancope representative was on call to assist Wruble’s team throughout the playoffs, but no major breakdowns occurred.

“Having these tools in place and having everything run smoothly, it was great for us to have time and go out and watch these playoff games,” Wruble says.

The StealthWatch solution offers more intense packet inspection by collecting native flow data, according to Lancope.

It also processes event records to “enable forensic analysis and expedite incident investigation and remediation efforts.”

The product produces an algorithmically derived “concern index” to determine whether a host’s system is behaving normally, says Jason Anderson, vice president of engineering at Alpharetta, Ga.-based Lancope. Once it isolates a problem, the solution — which does not rely on signatures — is able to both notify system administrators and reconfigure the network to automatically deny access to malicious hosts.

“StealthWatch is very threat independent,” Anderson says. “A lot of security technology has been developed to counter very specific threats. When a new threat is introduced into that environment, none of the tools developed previously can find the threat.”

With the Tigers now a force to be reckoned with — they again are on top of their division as of press time — spending likely will increase everywhere, although Wruble could not release figures. Technology will not be overlooked.

“We’ve, out of necessity, been very thin in terms of resources and investment,” he says. “But with this success and the direction our General Manager Dave Dombrowski has us headed, we anticipate growth. We’re looking to make good choices and invest in our technology.”

With StealthWatch already deployed, the Tigers are considering extending the service to its minor league properties. In the meantime, the IT staff is looking forward to what this season will bring.

“We said that if we won the World Series, we were going to cover the servers in plastic because there was going to be a celebration in the computer room,” Darrow says. The moment could be coming.

LOUISIANA SUPERDOME: Rebuilding after Katrina

Comerica Park was not the only stadium to sport new internet technology in 2006. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina,  the Louisiana Superdome — which sheltered thousands of area residents during the storm — has deployed a new IP network from Nortel.

The converged voice and data network is outfitted with mobile broadband service, IP telephones and Wi-Fi handheld scanners to validate tickets as fans enter the arena. The network also contains security software — including Nortel’s Switched Firewalls, Enterprise Network Management System and Threat Protection System — to prevent intrusion while analyzing traffic to detect existing and emerging threats.

“We are laying the foundation to give Superdome guests and staff an extraordinary communications experience,” said Steve Slattery, president of Nortel’s Enterprise Solutions division.  — Dan Kaplan