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Data Management Case Studies

Rogue One: A Data Management Story

Jyn’s father, Galen, was forced to help design the Death Star, a revolutionary and devastating new weapon, for the Empire. He was horrified by the weapon and didn’t believe in the Empire’s mission. He saw a way to help the Rebellion, though. He built a secret flaw in the Death Star. The flaw could be identified on the blueprints, but only if you knew that’s what you were looking at.

The Death Star was built, and Galen found a sympathetic pilot to take a message to Jyn to tell her about the vulnerability in the plans.

Jyn and her allies must go to the planet Scarif to the Empire’s data center to retrieve the plans. They break into the data center and find the file listing. All the of the files have code names to protect them from this kind of theft. However, Galen code named the Death Star plans “Stardust,” the nickname he called Jyn when she was a child.

Meanwhile, the security at the data center has figured out they’ve had a breach and a fight has broken out. Jyn needs to transmit the data to a Rebel ship just outside the planet’s shield. The file is big so transmission will take considerable time and effort. Her allies on the ground get a hole in the shield so the transmission can go through and Jyn is able to get the data to the awaiting craft moments before the Empire uses the Death Star to destroy Scarif.

There are many data management themes in this film. Starting when Galen realizes he can make the Death Star vulnerable to attack. He notes in his message to Jyn that he made himself invaluable to the project. This meant that he couldn’t be taken off the project too early to finish what he started and also ensured he had enough access to the plans to insert the vulnerability and to give the project its code name. Knowing who is responsible for different aspects of your project, and who has what levels of access to your data, is an important part of good data management. Of course, the file name that was meaningful but in line with the conventions of the data center was immensely helpful in letting Jyn get the file she needed in the shortest time possible.

The data center on Scarif raises questions about data security and data storage and backup. The center was reasonably well guarded but Jyn and her allies were still able to get inside. Once the automatic retrieval system was broken, they were still able to manually get the data from the storage system. This is a good thing for them and for anyone who needed legitimate access to the files during a power outage or similar mishap. The system was not designed for manual retrieval, but that each file was housed in its own drive made it possible.

When the planet is destroyed, one has to wonder if this is the only place those data files can be found. Where all the files permanently destroyed by this disaster, or are the files backed up in multiple locations? Backing up files in multiple geographic locations can help prevent such disasters from taking out all of your data.

Finally, transferring the data to the Rebel ship required that the transmission system existed on Scarif, that the shield around the planet was disabled enough to let transmissions through, and that a known Rebel ship was available and able to receive the transmission. This would require adequate storage on the ship and a receiver that was compatible with the files being transferred. If there had been risk of someone intercepting the transmission, the team would have had to worry additionally about encryption.

Speaking of encryption, it seems like a major oversight on the part of the Empire to not encrypt or even password protect their files. Once the file was out of the data center, anyone could read it.  While this worked out to our protagonists’ and indeed the franchise’s benefit, it shows that keeping your data protected from bad actors is very important.

Read more about data management on our Data Management Best Practices guide or our Data Management for Researchers guide.