Corssing swords next to text against galaxy

OT Infrastructure in the Star Wars Universe

Jori VanAntwerp, CEO SynSaber
Jori VanAntwerp
CEO, SynSaber

This post caters to the Venn diagram segment where Star Wars fans meet operational technology (OT) infrastructure geeks, of which I’m a proud member. 🤓 In preparation for May the Fourth, my wife and I recently rewatched Episode IV, A New Hope. All the films in the original Star Wars trilogy have been somewhat of a “wooby” for me.

Each time I rewatch these movies, I find different layers of meaning and unique lessons I can apply to my life and my career.

OT Infrastructure in Star Wars

This time around, I honed in on the scenes and systems within Episode IV that would have been considered part of an OT infrastructure in the Star Wars universe. From the moisture farm on Tatooine to the garbage compactor on the Death Star, and even the Death Star itself… so many of these moments included elements of operational technology!

I was amazed by the multitude of examples I found in this episode alone, as well as the connections and lessons that can be applied to OT security. And, of course, I had to throw in a few memes for good measure.

Moisture Farming Ain’t Easy

Toward the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to our hero, Luke Skywalker (well, not my personal favorite hero, but we’ll get to that later).

Their journey has just begun and is destined to be packed with non-stop action, peril, and excitement.

Luke helps his aunt and uncle on their moisture farm in Tatooine, which includes prime examples of operational technology. The farm includes devices called vaporators, which extract moisture from the air.

Droids can connect to a vaporator and act as a sort of human-machine interface (HMI). Some of the higher-end vaporator models even included computers to help adjust ionization and refrigeration.

The moisture farm could also be considered part of the universe’s critical infrastructure, as the farms produce water, which is vital for survival on the desert planet.

💡 Security Lesson / Connection – Visibility into the moisture farm’s systems and processes is extremely important. This is why the family is seeking a droid like C-3PO who is capable of interfacing with the vaporators in their native binary language. Not only is visibility important, but empowering and fighting for the operators (Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, in this case) is a key part of maintaining the viability of a moisture farm.

Ethical Hacker vs. Garbage Compactor

Personally, my favorite hero in the Star Wars universe is R2-D2, and the trash compactor scene in Episode IV is one where he really gets a chance to shine (no pun intended).

While the efficiency of the Death Star’s garbage compactor is hotly debated by many Star Wars fans, it is a great example of operational technology due to the processes and connected systems witnessed in the scene. Our heroes escape the detention center through the garbage chute, wrestle the vicious Dianoga (who would have been compacted anyway? 🤷), and then are faced with certain death from the closing walls of the compactor.

Enter R2-D2, the ethical hacker (with a brief social engineering assist from C-3PO)! R2-D2 hacks into the Death Star’s system in order to SHUT DOWN ALL THE GARBAGE MASHERS ON THE DETENTION LEVEL. Once again, the droids have saved the day.

💡 Security Lesson / Connection – This scene illustrates the need for comprehensive security measures. While physical security is important, it is not enough. Here we see an example of hacking and infiltration, albeit the ethical variety as performed by our hero R2-D2. The architect of this garbage compactor has some serious explainin’ to do.

Vital Technology with a Single Point of Failure

One of the most iconic OT infrastructures in the Star Wars universe is the Death Star. The Death Star is no moon – it’s a massive, planet-sized battle station that the Galactic Empire uses to exert control over the galaxy.

Their journey has just begun and is destined to be packed with non-stop action, peril, and excitement.

In addition to the garbage compactor, the Death Star appears to be equipped with a variety of other OT systems, including a superlaser, tractor beams, and energy shields. These systems allow the Death Star to destroy planets, capture ships, and defend itself against attack.

The Death Star is a marvel of engineering and science fiction — with a critical vulnerability in its thermal exhaust port.

💡 Security Lesson / Connection – Monitor your infrastructure for critical vulnerabilities, and maintain physical security at all times. In the Star Wars universe, the Death Star was the ultimate symbol of power for the Galactic Empire. So it’s pretty embarrassing that the Death Star’s downfall came from a critical weakness in its physical design (until we discover in later films that the vulnerability was purposefully architected via insider threat).

The small exhaust port that led directly to the station’s reactor was ultimately exploited by the Rebel Alliance, leading to the Death Star’s destruction. This scene highlights the importance of physical security measures in protecting critical infrastructure. Adequate barriers, surveillance, and access control are essential to prevent unauthorized access and potential sabotage.

OT Infrastructure is the Force that Surrounds Us

Rewatching Episode IV through an OT infrastructure lens was both entertaining and enlightening. This was another reminder that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s a high chance that something nearby is running on or impacted by operational technology.

The security connections and lessons that were exhibited throughout Episode IV are important as well:

  • Get visibility into your systems
  • Protect and fight for your operators (RIP Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru)
  • Implement comprehensive security measures
  • Understand risks and remediate vulnerabilities
  • Maintain physical security, and beware of force-wielding wizards

P.S. – While it’s more focused on the IT side of the house, if you enjoy reading about the intersection between Star Wars and cybersecurity, check out Threats: What Every Engineer Should Learn from Star Wars by Adam Shostack.

And to all the OT Jedi out there, May the Fourth Be With You!