Republican National Convention NOC
Inside the Republican National Convention's network operations center. Courtesy of ForeScout

Inside the Republican National Convention’s Anti-Hacker Squad

Jul 21, 2016

Katherine Gronberg is stationed at the heart of the Republican National Convention's cyber command in Cleveland, mere blocks away from the stage where Donald Trump will accept his party's presidential nomination this week. She sits at a desk surrounded by gray cubicle walls, folding tables, television screens, and, of course, computers.

The temporary cybershop is a bit drab, admits Gronberg, vice president for government affairs at cybersecurity firm ForeScout. The mission, however, is anything but: protecting the computer networks that the convention's staffers depend on to keep the show up and running.

"This is a very different environment than what we're used to seeing," Gronberg tells Fortune. "But there are a lot of similarities to the work we do for major companies and banks."

Locking down such a large-scale, high-profile, albeit ephemeral event where thousands of attendees brings their own devices presents a unique set of challenges for her small team of half a dozen people, including some who work remotely. For one thing, the group doesn't have to worry much about protecting sensitive data—intellectual property, customer information, medical records. Breach prevention is not the main aim; instead, the goal is to block disruptive attacks.

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ForeScout has two hardware appliances, a product called "CounterACT," on site. The technology monitors devices connected to the convention's network (which is different, by the way, from the public Wi-Fi accessible on the arena floor). The team's job is to make sure that devices on the network are behaving properly; and that ones that aren't can be tracked, quarantined, or booted from the network.

For more on network operations centers, watch:

There's reason to be on high alert: Earlier this year factions of the shadowy, amorphous, and activist-driven hacking group Anonymous declared war on Trump, the Republican Party's candidate. While Gronberg was limited in what she could say about the attacks her team has seen so far, she did tell Fortune that they have included phishing scams, denial of service strikes, device spoofing tricks (where one device, like a printer, mimics another computer in attempt to access higher value parts of a network), and botnet probes (involving armies of machines looking for vulnerabilities) originating from outside the country.

ForeScout is working closely with Dark Cubed, a cybersecurity startup whose software tracks and displays incoming threats. Other companies providing technical and security assistance to the convention include Cisco (csco), AT&T (t), and Microsoft (msft), Gronberg said.

Read more: "Inside AT&T's Global Network Operations Center"

Max Everett, chief information security of the convention, has described the event thusly, according to Gronberg: If the 2012 convention was the iPhone convention, then this is the video-streaming convention. About two out of five devices on the network are non-traditional or within the "Internet of things" category, meaning printers, voice-over-IP telephones, video surveillance cameras, screen monitors, and other Internet-connected devices, according to ForeScout.

"There has been an explosion of devices, including TV screens, cameras, and even lights—these wouldn’t have been networked even four years ago," Gronberg said. "You need a different kind of security approach."

Gronberg's team is gearing up for the big headliner night on Thursday featuring Trump. "We're expecting more traffic," she said, unfazed. "And we'll be at the DNC [Democratic National Convention] next week."

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