Sponsored feature: the irresistible rise of digital data brings constant challenges. Enabling mobility and preserving security are key issues for all architectural practices, explored here in the context of the growth of technology, amplified by individual case studies from two UK-based firms of different scales, Blox Architects and PLP Architecture
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Architects were early adopters of digital technologies, but the explosion of data has implications for modern practices. The need for mobility goes hand in hand with an imperative to keep data secure, to combat increasingly sophisticated attempts at hacking and subversion. Deployment of technology alone will rarely prevent a cybersecurity attack, but it forms a critical part of wider defence strategy
Digital information now extends to every facet of human existence. New technologies continue to make inroads into workplaces and homes, with data created and shared in increasing quantities. The growth factors are staggering. Every 60 seconds, 390,030 apps are downloaded and 188 million emails sent. Every day, more than four million blog posts and 500 million tweets are published. On average, we spend 6 hours and 42 minutes online and internet users now make up 57% of the global population, compared, for example, with only 20% of people who have ever flown on a plane.
Such astounding statistics are enabled by increasingly sophisticated computing and processing capabilities, the cloud, better networked systems and an explosion of interconnected devices and smartphones. With networked devices such as phones, laptops and tablets set to outnumber the number of living humans by a factor of 8:1 by 2025, the amount of data and processing is set to grow.
Architects were early adopters, quick to embrace these advances and exploit their potential. Thirty years ago, digital technologies and computer modelling were seen as a peripheral, niche milieu; now they drive and shape architectural perception, processes and production. Digital modelling, rendering and design packages have become the new language of architecture. Through the use of powerful software tools, cloud computing and sophisticated graphic processing capabilities, it is possible to efficiently model, design, render accurate visuals, and even predict the operational and environmentalefficiency of buildings, structures and spaces long before a brick has been laid.
Source: DONG WENJIE
As architecture’s digital multiverse evolves, two factors particularly stand out: the imperative for security and the need for mobility. These are intrinsically interlinked, as architects tend to be constantly on the move, from office to site, visiting clients, consultants and suppliers. The need to be more mobile precipitates several IT admin challenges, including security and the rising costs of a modern digital office. With the expansion of workforce mobility, clients now expect architects to be constantly onsite with the correct design tools.
But the networked world also has a dark side. Any theft or misuse of data is serious, with the potential to propagate crime, prejudice and political destabilisation. Corporate data and systems that support it are now targeted with increasing frequency and sophistication. Regardless of whether an attacker’s motivation is disruption, revenge or financial gain, most data attacks are aimed at compromising the confidentiality, integrity or availability of information that is stored, processed or transmitted on technology systems, components, devices and applications. Without adequate protection, the potential for misappropriation of technology and data can quickly become an organisation’s targetable weak spot.
Architecture data has varying degrees of sensitivity. In some instances, it could relate to a simple functional structure, where design and construction information is of little risk or value to potential attackers. Alternatively, the target might be a building that contains critical national infrastructure, which would be of significant interest to criminals or terrorists. Each comes with a different requirement for security. Attackers often focus on mobile devices to intercept information and leverage unauthorised access to an organisation’s systems and resources, such as mail, web and database servers.
With threats to privacy and security becoming more diverse and sophisticated, anti-virus protection alone is no longer sufficient to keep systems secure. The deployment of technology alone will rarely prevent a cybersecurity attack, but it forms part of layered approach, along with management and governance processes and the development of people through security awareness and business process training. The application of recognised security and privacy standards can help organisations grade the importance of critical information and implement appropriate security protocols across people, processes and technologies. Backups and disaster recovery (DR) plans in place are also useful last-resort tools to combat security threats. This could range from external hard drives that are unplugged to sending physical backup media to offsite storage. Ultimately, paper cannot be hacked.
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For more information, visit AMD.com/AEC
Source: MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE / CONTRIBUTOR
For smaller practices, mobility is especially critical. Being able to work effectively on the move, using mobile devices with the power of office computers, is an intrinsic part of an architect’s toolbox. Blox Architecture was set up two years ago by Peter Bloxham as a sole practitioner, based in the London suburb of Epping. Here, he talks about the importance of mobility in cultivating client relationships
‘As a sole practitioner, relationships with clients are particularly important’, says Peter Bloxham. They can be a source of repeat business, when clients have a portfolio of work, or new business when details are passed on through personal recommendation. Cultivating and maintaining these relationship ‘is absolutely key’, he says.
Being able to meet clients face to face is crucial. ‘I would take a laptop to a first client engagement to show them what I can do’, says Bloxham. ‘My digitised portfolio is now on the computer, rather than taking pieces of paper. And invariably, when a job is on site, I’m at site meetings using my laptop’. Bloxham also relocates when the need arises. One of his clients is based in Baker Street in central London so, once a fortnight, he works in his office.
Bloxham prioritises speed and reliability on his mobile devices. ‘There has to be a seamless transition between my home office and wherever I’m working’, he says. ‘You have to be able to work in the same way, interacting with the server at speed. The office has to go where you go’. Responding to the growth of workplace mobility, AMD Remote Workstation was developed to ensure architects can draw on the power of their workstations virtually anywhere. The system is designed to bridge creative spaces with productive platforms: a way to harness powerful desk-side workstations from almost anywhere without compromising performance and without additional end-user licence fees.
AMD’s powerful dedicated graphics processors (GPUs) ensure architects can take on larger projects with ease, whether employing a desk-side workstation or a laptop. The AMD Radeon Pro range of GPUs offers increased computing capacity and is certified with leading software packages for 2D/3D design, visualisation and simulation.
Bloxham currently uses an AMD Radeon Pro GPU. ‘It’s much faster than the previous system I was running, and also a lot clearer and crisper in the screen picture’.
Though Bloxham operates as a sole practitioner, on one-off houses, schools and extensions, he also works in tandem with four similar practices to benefit from ideas and experiences. They collaborate with each other as if they were employed by a larger organisation. ‘They’re my support network’, he says, ‘so we need to be to able to communicate and share information quickly and efficiently’. Occasionally, he also employs people on an ad-hoc basis, using facilities at his home office. ‘I buy in their time, so it’s important that everything works’.
Could other smaller practices benefit from what AMD offers? Unlike larger practices, who evaluate and select IT systems on the basis of cost and economies of scale, Bloxham can make more-tailored decisions targeted to the specific nature of his practice. In his experience, AMD innately understands the challenges faced by architects, ‘specifically the speed and complexity of how we need to work’.
Source: MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE / CONTRIBUTOR
Keeping out the hackers
Larger practices are often more vulnerable to cyber attacks, so developing and maintaining a robust and up-to-date protection plan is crucial. Based in the City of London, PLP Architecture is an established firm of architects, designers and thinkers. The practice was founded by a group of partners who have been working together for over 30 years. PLP currently employs around 200 people and Chris Fanning is the firm’s systems administrator. Here, he talks about issues around architectural IT security and the importance of implementing a multi-layered approach
‘It’s like an onion’, Fanning explains, ‘the more layers you have, the better. But basically, architectural IT security doesn’t have to be complicated to be secure’. The basic three-step approach is to prevent attacks from getting into a network, have defences in case attacks do breach security measures, and have isolated backups in case defences fail.
PLP uses cloud-backed firewalls, antivirus and anti-ransomware, wifi and email security from tier-one providers such as Meraki, Symantec and Sophos. ‘Those systems and providers respond to network threats faster and with more expertise than our own IT and systems could have’, says Fanning. With Microsoft offering secure email and online storage with Office365, the weakest link in the security chain today is employees falling victim to scams and phishing attacks.To counter this threat, PLP train and test their staff with phishing emails of their own, in a gamekeeper-turned-poacher scenario. Nobody is foolproof, however, so the final element in the security protocol is to ensure that accounts can be locked down and recovered quickly if compromised.
Many products will combine some of the following into one, but a modern firewall configured with strict incoming rules will stop the vast majority of opportunistic protocol attacks by limiting exposure to attacks that can happen, even without user interaction, simply by having machines that are connected to the internet. Viruses, malware and phishing attacks usually involve deceiving employees so having software installed to combat these is essential. ‘Equally, it’s important to train staff to recognise common scams, suspicious behaviour and teach them not to blindly click on things or enter credentials into web pages’, says Fanning.
Despite best attempts to secure a network, it is naive to presume that they will be enough. Accounts can and will be compromised, so using the loathed-yet-valuable password changes that prevent users from reusing old passwords is important. Having policies in place to disable and regain control of compromised accounts will also limit any damage. ‘Often, the first signs of a compromised account is a ransom demanding Bitcoin in exchange for unlocking now-encrypted data, or emails to the account department asking for (fake) invoices to be paid urgently’, says Fanning.
Company security policies here can help in two obvious ways: limiting access of individual users to only the data they need so that, in the event of their accounts being compromised, the potential damage is contained to only areas they can access; and having standard protocols for financial transactions internally, making it easier to spot scam attempts because attackers are unlikely to know or follow these protocols.
AMD Secure Technology is a built-in security system that puts the protection right on select hardware. Through AMD’s collaboration with an extensive network of platform providers, it aims to keep data secure, while still providing the necessary computing power for architects, whether in the office or on site.
Having backups and disaster recovery (DR) plans in place are also useful last-resort tools to combat security threats. In the event that data is damaged or held at ransom by successful attackers, being able to roll back the damage done to a previous backup is essential. this can be achieved either with antiransomware software or simply by reverting to a snapshot of the data from just before the attack. ‘The only thing to consider with any good DR strategy is to ensure that at least one set of backups are isolated from the overall network’, says Fanning.
Where an entire network is compromised, networkconnected backups could also be affected. ‘So it is essential to maintain a working copy of your company’s network assets in preparation for a worst-case scenario’.
This sponsored feature appeared in the AR December 2019 / January 2020 double issue – which you can buy here
As we slowly build more seamless connections between the real and the virtual, Designing Tomorrow Today (DTT) is a series of pieces exploring the impact of technological research and developments onto the world of architecture. Printed in The Architectural Review, DTT is realised in collaboration with partners keen to showcase their knowledge, expertise, and latest innovations. If you are interested in finding out more, drop a line to James Priest at firstname.lastname@example.org