Like many major corporations, professional sports teams must deal with both the good and the bad of cutting-edge technology. Positive developments range from "second screen" experiences for spectators to connected baseballs and basketballs that provide coaches with real-time analytics about athlete performance. Downsides include managing the legions of gadget-toting fans that enter a given teams' stadium each month.
As the Miami Marlins Major League Baseball team has learned, portable devices mean more than visitors being able to tweet about a great catch or post Instagram photos of a winning play. In some cases, the tech also leads to unauthorized access to the stadium's network, often innocently, but sometimes with malicious intent.
In a phone interview, David Enriquez, senior director of information technology for the Miami Marlins, said that when the team began building its new stadium, which opened last year, network security concerns were top of mind.
[ For more on how pro sports franchises are using technology, see Giants, Red Sox, Celtics To Talk Customer Experience At E2. ]
A stadium might contain thousands of ports, he explained. Many of them are in areas accessible to fans, meaning a member of the public could connect a rogue device without being immediately spotted. Sometimes it's simply a matter of someone trying to check his email, but denial-of-service attacks and other hacking attempts have also occurred.
Attackers have literally brought down the system in different areas, Enriquez said. He added that in the team's old home, the Marlins IT staff had little control over the situation. "We really had no management capability because we were tenants in a park designed for football," he said of Sun Life Stadium, which the team shared with the NFL's Miami Dolphins through the 2011 season.
This lack of control limited the team's ability to detect attacks and to wrangle the thousands of vendors, stadium personnel and media members who require legitimate network access during each game.
Marlins Park, which opened in 2012, was designed to circumvent these problems. The 37,400-seat stadium contains more than 7,000 ports. They connect to anything from point-of-sale systems and ATMs to TVs, display boards, media equipment and thousands of laptops and personal devices.
The team's IT staff needed visibility into what and who is connecting to its network. It turned to Bradford Networks and its Network Sentry product, which detects new devices and automatically provisions the appropriate level of network access. Policies such as the device's type and function and the identity of the person or organization using it were included in a library, but Network Sentry also includes the ability to create custom rules -- a necessary feature for protecting LED display boards, proprietary systems and other devices for which a template is unlikely to exist.
In an interview, Bradford CMO Tom Murphy said Network Sentry helps the Marlins avoid manually configuring its various ports, which not only increases security but also saves time and effort. Because the network can recognize individual devices as they connect, he said, it can adapt on the fly. If a device moves from one port to another, for example, or if a user moves or switches devices, the network can adjust accordingly.
Enriquez said Network Sentry also streamlines management tasks. "Without it, we had people walking around with patch cables and radios, trying to figure out what was going on," he said. "But as soon as we installed it, everything became a centralized process."
Short of unplugged cables and other physical mishaps, he said, he can use Network Sentry to direct how ports, the V-LAN, devices, and other network elements are allowed to intermingle. He estimated the product has cut in half the amount of time employees spend manually inspecting or configuring aspects of the network.
Airports, convention spaces and retail establishments share many of the same concerns as the Marlins, but with personal devices now ubiquitous, businesses of all types and sizes can be threatened by rogue network access. As much as technology can simplify, it can also impose new challenges, especially for IT managers.