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artificial intelligence

J. R. Molloy
01:57 PM ET (US)
Developers of AI will need to follow this template:

Top firms retreat into bunker to ward off anarchists
By Steve Boggan
11 June 2001
Some of Britain's biggest companies are running their internet operations on systems installed in a 300ft-deep nuclear blast-proof bunker to protect customers from violent anti-capitalist campaigners.

They are renting space in hermetically sealed rooms capable of withstanding a one Kiloton explosion, electro-magnetic "pulse bombs", electronic eavesdropping and chemical and biological warfare.

Hundreds of companies have already installed systems in The Bunker ­ formerly known as RAF Ash, outside Sandwich in Kent ­ and dozens more are understood to be queuing up for space. They have been driven underground by the IRA bombings of Canary Wharf and Bishopsgate in London and, increasingly, by concerns over the operations of anarchists behind sophisticated protests such as the May Day anti-capitalist rallies.

At stake is billions of pounds worth of business conducted over the internet. Companies are concerned that while electronic security ­ using increasingly sophisticated encryption codes ­ is gradually making customers feel more confident about conducting credit-card transactions over the internet, the physical side of e-business is still vulnerable. The fear is that servers, the small electronic boxes through which customer traffic and business transactions on the web are channelled, could be physically vulnerable to theft, damage or sabotage.

For companies conducting business solely over the internet, the loss of a server could be catastrophic; while offline there can be no sales and no income, and customers will go elsewhere. Records, too, are vulnerable to attack, hacking or simple damage, resulting in shut-downs that could cost even traditional companies millions of pounds.

Now organisations such as Scottish Widows, BTCellnet, Richer Sounds and the Bank Automated Clearance System ­ which deals with inter-bank transactions ­ have acted, putting their e-business and confidential dealings out of harm's way behind guards, barbed wire, dogs, electronic detection systems, millions of tons of earth, 4m of concrete, pressurised air locks and rows of steel doors up to 18in thick.

"This isn't paranoia or fantasy, this is the future," said Dr Ian Angell, professor of information systems at the London School of Economics and author of The New Barbarian Manifesto. "There are sophisticated anti-capitalists out there who feel a great deal of resentment against the business world. These are the new Luddites and, given half a chance, they would smash the machine to pieces."

Behind The Bunker is a company called AL Digital Communications, established by the brothers Adam and Ben Laurie and Dominic Hawken. Ben Laurie is already revered in the computing world as the man who co-wrote Apache-SSL, perhaps the best-known encryption technology available over the internet ­ a tool used by some anti-capitalists when arranging demonstrations.

Three years ago, AL Digital heard that an RAF facility with state-of-the art electronics and communications systems was to be auctioned off. RAF Ash was one of four underground command and control centres at the heart of Britain's national air defence system. As part of a cost-cutting exercise, it was to be mothballed only seven years after undergoing a complete overhaul and upgrade.

The AL Digital team made a sealed bid ­ still secret, according to the Ministry of Defence ­ and the 60,000sq ft bunker with 18 acres of land was theirs. "The facility was designed to withstand a nuclear attack without disrupting RAF computer systems," Dominic Hawken said. "Their computers were about radar, but there is little difference between that and hosting a website. Some people have argued that our defences are a little over the top, but they're here now ­ what can we do, shave a little off the walls?"

To enter, visitors must pass through security checks before being allowed through layer after layer of restricted access; of the 49 employees on site, only a handful are allowed into the bowels of the structure. Here, one finds doors that take two people to open and concrete grottoes called Faraday cages that act as electric buffers between the hostile outside and the environmentally pure, air-filtered inside.

There are three back-up power systems big enough to fire up a small town ­ when busy, the National Grid buys energy from The Bunker's four turbines. There are dedicated telecommunications lines installed for the RAF but now available to customers at between £250 a month for a single server on a shelf, to "several millions" of pounds a year for the kind of huge space being rented by a large ­ and unnamed ­ international computer company already inside The Bunker.

There is also a fire station, vast underground fuel and water tanks and an array of cameras on corridors and servers ­ you can even have a camera pointed permanently at your little box to make sure no one tampers with it.

Mr Hawken added: "Co-location is now the buzzword; if your records are destroyed, you want at least one back-up in another place so your business can keep operating. There are many reasons why companies are choosing the safety of a nuclear bunker, but I think the anti-capitalist threat is the most compelling.

"That whole thing is about bringing down large companies and the weakest link is to get to where their information is stored and destroy it. Because of encryption, they can no longer interfere with data, so they may try to damage the hardware that physically contains or controls it. For companies operating over the internet, that means targeting their servers."

None of The Bunker's customers contacted by The Independent would comment for security reasons. However, one, a large multinational computer corporation, said: "The Bunker provides us with a level of physical security and reliability unobtainable in the US. Experience taught us that digital security unaccompanied by physical security is worthless. The Bunker provides us with the highest levels of both."

Other companies said they simply felt they could relax knowing their internet operations were physically safe from attack.

Professor Angell said: "You have to understand. Future wars will be fought by capitalists and anti-capitalists as society polarises. When that happens, control of information will be as important as control of territory used to be in conventional conflicts. If you can stop your enemy from destroying your information, then you have a good chance of winning the war."
J. R. Molloy
06:34 PM ET (US)
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QT Qualification Test
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--J. R.

Useless hypotheses, etc.:
 consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism

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