With Super Bowl XLI preparing for kickoff in Miami on Sunday, NFL teams not participating in the game, which pits the Chicago Bears against the Indianapolis Colts, are still flexing new defensive schemes.
As the intellectual property that serves as the lifeblood of National Football League teams moves further into the electronic realm--namely their playbooks, scouting reports, player records and ticket holder account information--the ability for professional football franchises to defend their sensitive data is rapidly growing in importance.
From protecting their sophisticated game plans and the medical status of players from leaking to outsiders, to defending ticket holder data from potential exposure, teams are installing more advanced IT security systems to keep operations locked down--much as their offensive lines form pockets to keep quarterbacks protected from getting sacked.
An example of the type of work being done by NFL teams to safeguard their intellectual property in the IT environment can be found in Houston, where the expansion Texans are still fighting to become one of the league's elite teams, but feel they have tackled the information security challenge head on.
The team is specifically using a security appliance made by Palisade Systems, based in Ames, Iowa, to inspect traffic passing through its network to prevent sensitive information from being inappropriately transmitted. Dubbed PacketSure, the Palisade appliance allows organizations to set a wide range of parameters for determining the manner in which different types of information can be distributed.
The system also serves to prevent viruses, specifically so-called spyware programs, from stealing data from the Texans' IT systems in secret.
For instance, if an individual or malware program attempted to steal the social security numbers of the team's employees or customers, the device promises to detect the content and block it from leaving the organization's systems.
"We're a football team on the field, but we're also heavily involved in the information business, especially with data used by our coaches, scouts and trainers," said Nick Ignatiev, director of IT for the Texans, who serves the same role for The McNair Group, the Houston-based energy company headed by team owner Robert C. McNair.
"We're trying to protect everything valuable we have on both the football and business sides of our company," Ignatiev said. "We're trying to secure all of our intellectual property from everything from your typical viruses, to people sharing information inappropriately via peer-to-peer file sharing systems; on the business side, we partner with Ticketmaster and need to protect all the personal data of our customers."
The IT administrator said the Texans feel good about their defense in the trenches, but that it won't keep him from scouting out new tactics for shutting out their future opponents.
"We've been lucky that we haven't yet had any attacks aimed at our organization specifically," said Ignatiev. "But we certainly don't think that means it won't happen."