How not to build a digital archive: lessons from the dark side of the force

Fans of the latest Star Wars saga Rogue One will notice that Digital Archiving forms a prominent part in the new film. This is good news for all of us in the industry, as we can use it as an example of how we are working every day to ensure the durability and security of our content. Perhaps more importantly it makes our jobs sound much more glamorous – when asked “so what do you do” we can start with “remember the bit in Rogue One….”

However, all is not perfect with the Empire’s choice of archiving technology, and we couldn't help but notice the following flaws in their Digital Preservation policy:

  • The failure to replicate critical data to a remote location, preferably a galaxy far far away, which is not effected by a similar death star event
  • An authentication system that allowed the hand of a dead archivist to be used to gain entry (not generally recommended by the archiving community)
  • No fine grained security – once in you could see everything
  • No encryption at rest – physical asset could be removed and re-read on another device, without even the need for the dead archivist’s hand
  • No metadata to prove the provenance of the plans – how could you be sure you were looking at the right death star plans?
  • Using a single metadata tag as a finding aid to locate the key information, and relying on the knowledge of one individual to recognise this tag
  • Putting a whole information package on one removable device meaning it could be extracted from the archive in a non-recoverable way
  • The inefficiency of the tape robot – a tall tower is not the optimum configuration for access speeds
  • Using a tall tower as an archive makes it an easy target. Critical information should be kept somewhere more anonymous
  • A file format policy that relied on the Evil Empire and Rebel Alliance using the same software

However, their download speed problem is common to most archives and their firewall was only breached by pretty extreme methods

Looking back, it is clear that this is only partly the Empire's fault. They were building on some fairly sloppy work by the previous ruling orders of the Galaxy. In Episode II we see the Jedi Archives (presumably this esteemed and ancient order is leading the way in archival best practice in this galaxy far far away). In that scene we are told that “if it’s not in the archives, it doesn’t exist”, which certainly shows a high level of confidence in their systems and processes. We subsequently discover that the information about a whole planetary system was deleted by a disgruntled employee/malicious Jedi, and that there is no trace of this activity. Poor auditing and lax security controls allowed the creation of the clone army without ringing any alarm bells, hardly the stuff of a trusted digital repository!

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Jon Tilbury
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Jon Tilbury
CTO