Who’s to blame for that one open thermal exhaust port? We ask the Death Star CIO.

Todd Tarkin. If that name doesn’t make your blood run cold, it should. It belongs to the Death Star CIO responsible for creating the worst IT security disaster the universe has ever known. Or was it his fault?

In a galaxy far, far away, Todd was a long-time member of the Galactic Empire and son of Governor Wilhuff Tarkin, the Empire’s first “Grand Moff.” Throughout his storied career, Todd held many titles as he worked his way up through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, eventually earning the rank of the first-ever Death Star CIO.

The DS – 1 Orbital Battle Station, commonly referred to as the Death Star, was the Empire’s ultimate secret weapon — a terrifying, moon-sized, military battle station armed with a planet-destroying super laser. It was 120 kilometers in diameter and, when fully staffed, housed approximately two million people. 

Todd Tarkin, as Death Star CIO, was responsible for establishing and maintaining the technology underpinning the Imperial vision and strategy. He was also responsible for making sure Death Star information and infrastructure were adequately protected. Todd failed…

I had the opportunity to sit down with Todd and chat with him about what went wrong on that fateful day, when a farm boy from Tatooine would change his life forever.

Death Star CIO swag call out box

Todd, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.
Oh, not a problem at all, I’m happy to do it.

You were the only survivor of the Rebel Alliance attack on the Death Star is that correct?
That’s right, I’m the lone survivor out of 1.5 million! How lucky is that? To be honest, I wasn’t on the Death Star the day it was attacked.

You weren’t? Where were you?
I won an office pool and the prize was a trip to the “Make The Dark Side Great Again” retreat on Canto Bright. Admittedly it was a bit of a boondoggle but SO… MUCH… FUN! I even got to meet Emperor Palpatine, which was pretty rad. Shout out to my brother from another mother – DJ Pauly D! YOLO!!

Make The Dark Side Great Again retreat. From the left: TK-421, DJ Pauly D, Sheev Palpatine, Todd Tarkin & THX-1138

I have to admit, I’m really surprised to see how happy and positive you are. I mean, there’s probably a lot of people out there that say this is all your fault as the Death Star CIO.
Oh totally, I’ve heard it all. “Todd you suck, Todd you’re a rebel scum, Todd you killed your dad,” and that was just my mom! You should’ve heard what the others said! Truth is, it wasn’t my fault. There were lots of people on our IT security teams who were responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and security of our infrastructure.  Our issues were no different than what other super weapons deal with every day. 

Did you know about the vulnerability with the thermal exhaust port?
Of course we did! I’d say we were familiar with 99% of the Death Star vulnerabilities…or at least our security team knew about them. I couldn’t tell you if the IT team was paying attention. Once we even held a team standup about the thermal exhaust port. Once the security people determined it to be a sev-1 vulnerability, we sent the details over to our IT operations droids and told them to fix it. 

Of course the IT droids were no protocol droids, if you know what I mean, and they’d always be whining about Death Star reliability and if you close the exhaust port there are serious nuclear reactor dependencies and blah, blah, blah. I grew tired of the bickering. Even my old man knew about this vuln! He had his opinions about the exhaust port vulnerability, I had mine, obviously security thought we should close it, IT said it wasn’t their highest priority and they had bigger gooberfish to fry. There are plenty of people to blame, but I take no responsibility.

Umm, OK. And still, nothing was done?
I wouldn’t say nothing was done. The threats facing that Death Star were everywhere and never-ending. Are you familiar with our trash compactor issues? I mean c’mon!!  Is it my job to sight-in every Stormtrooper blaster? NO. Am I supposed to steer around every piece of space junk flying thousands of kilometers an hour at the Death Star? Heck NO!

Dude, the attack surface and risk profile of the Death Star is immense and I hired the best of the best. I worked for the Emperor so trust me, we had no problem recruiting…no skills gap and no issues with under-resourced teams. As small as that thermal exhaust port is… uh, I mean was, there were several even smaller things that led to it becoming a big thing.

I’m afraid I don’t follow.
Look, everyone involved with the Death Star knew it wasn’t a matter of “if,” it was a matter of “when.” We all knew it was going to be attacked. That thing was thought to be impregnable and in many respects, it was. Check this out, the first Death Star had 15,000 turbo laser batteries, 2,500 super blaster 920 laser cannons, 2,500 ion cannons and 768 tractor beams. That’s not even counting all of those TIE Fighters. The Death Star could’ve easily repelled any large-scale, fleet attack and that’s what we were planning for, a massive, brute-force attack. 

Sure, my teams had identified plenty of vulnerabilities but our operations teams were focused on fixing the big, high-priority problems!  Who knew Vader’s hippie kid was going to show up with his buddy — who was way too old to be hanging out with him by the way — and perform some sort of voices-in-the-head magic trick. Like that’s my fault?! And never mind placing blame on my IT and security operations teams. I could make a case for blaming Vader calling it an inside job…stupid parents can’t control their own kids…other people’s kids are the worst…(unintelligible muttering)…

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? 
Uh, hello?! We did do it again and it was even worse than before! It was called Death Star II, which if you do the math, comes right after Death Star I. Do your homework before asking these questions. Geez, pay attention.

Lando Calrissian took us down. I’ll say that again–Lando Calrissian! Is he the son of the Dark Lord of the Sith? Nope, just some dude in a fancy cape with a borrowed, hunk-of-junk spaceship.

I will say that if they would’ve put me in charge of the second Death Star, I would’ve done so many things differently.

Such as?
Let me break it down like a fraction for you. The amount of Death Star data created each year was approx 40 zetabytes… that’s 5,200 GB of data for each and every person on your planet Earth. 

As a side note, can I just say thank you for doing this interview over Zoom? I mean, not that masks are difficult to come by where I’m from, but we’ve pretty much got the social distancing from Earth thing down pat and we’d like to keep it that way.

Anyway, we’re dealing with complexity and scale like you don’t even know. And if we have even the slightest vulnerability in our infrastructure it puts the entire space station at risk. Now add a few million more vulnerabilities and it becomes a critical matter of priority for our SecOps teams. Sure, our security guys have done the scans, and found the issues but now who fixes them? What gets fixed first? Can we just remediate them all? If not then why not, and in what order? This isn’t easy.

There simply weren’t enough people or droids in the galaxy to manage an operation of that scale. So the first thing I would’ve done on the second Death Star was automate as much as possible. Scanning, detection, remediation. Automation becomes the force (see what I did there?) multiplier we needed to protect the Death Star. 

Then I’d get the security and IT operations teams on the same page, using the same tools, etc. We needed to do everything possible in order to break down that transpara-steel wall between our teams so they could’ve worked together more efficiently and become a true, integrated SecOps team using the force of automation. You see what I did there? “Force of automation.” Get it?

Oh, and I would’ve made it impossible to shoot or fly things into our damn exhaust ports!  

I have to be honest, you almost make it sound easy.
Yeah, I really do, don’t I? I guess that’s why I make bank by traveling the universe and telling other CTOs, CIOs and CISOs what not to do. I sure hope they’re listening. After all, it just takes one open thermal exhaust port.

Thanks for reading the Death Star I interview with Todd Tarkin. Don’t forget to order your free Todd Tarkin, Death Star CIO, merch. Request it here. We’ll even ship it to you for free. We know, that’s not very Dark Side of us.

We realize many of you are building, maintaining, and securing your own Death Stars (maybe minus the death wish and the planet lasers) which is never an easy job. If you would like to know how SaltStack can help you and your teams secure digital infrastructure, read the SaltStack SecOps white paper to learn about universal automation for infrastructure vulnerability remediation and continuous compliance.

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