When it comes to the security of your data, can you be too paranoid? New data security and business continuity company The Bunker doesn't think so, as we noted in the recent news story about the launch.
Buried beneath a mound of scrubby grass and surrounded by the accoutrements of a top-secret military installation - high barbed wire fences, a random sprinkling of style-free squat buildings, tall fine-mesh gates and red-and-white barriers - is The Bunker's underground data facility. It's accessed by a huge steel door set into the side of a hill, though to get that far, you first have to pass through a military-style gate, controlled by a hard-faced ex-marine in the guardroom.
Once you get down into the bowels of the bunker, which is set in 18 acres of what used to be a secret Royal Air Force (RAF) radar site, it's hard not to be impressed by the size and scope of the place. Access to each area within the bunker is controlled by air-tight, pressurised airlocks which help remove the risk of biological attack.
The bunker penetrates up to 100 feet underground and was originally designed to protect against nuclear explosions. Not only are some of the reinforced concrete slabs up to six feet thick, some areas are further protected by being mounted inside vibration absorbing rubber inside a concrete sandwich, behind foot-thick steel doors weighing up to five tons.
Deep inside the bunker are concrete lined rooms housing racks full of servers, while others can become disaster recovery centres where customers can relocate their organisations when required. Lightfoot enthuses about the use of open source tools to provide digital security, claiming that this allows The Bunker to make use of the latest and best technology while containing costs.
Once a military facility, it feels sparsely oppressive as there's no effort made to install modern office furniture or accoutrements, or to allow any daylight in. Operations director Paul Lightfoot is keen to retain this bleak look and feel.
Claiming that the organisation is one of a kind, many if not most of the directors and employees have military, security industry and/or police backgrounds. These give the organisation an edge, says Lightfoot, who is in charge of security, data management and pretty much everything else on a day-to-day basis. Lightfoot also reckoned that the company's connections with the military mean that, when RAF or army camps are mothballed, The Bunker is first on the scene, ready to buy up sites for future use.
Not only does the physical environment help protect customer data and equipment, Lightfoot is keen to point out that hiring people from specific backgrounds helps generate what he called "a culture of security". "They think security before they react to anything", he says, "otherwise it could open up big security holes. The physical, hard-edged aspect of the place helps maintain that atmosphere, according to Lightfoot.
Examples of security-consciousness include a policy of accompanying any visitor wherever they go, even if they're accessing their own kit within a rack, much pass-checking, and numerous warnings about what can and cannot be mentioned in public.
Dogs as well
As you might expect, this is reinforced by regular guard dog patrols 365 days a year, CCTV cameras, and a host of equipment designed to protect against electro-magnetic pulses, measures to combat electronic eavesdropping, including RFI screening using Tempest technology, and other disruptions to sensitive electronics such as excessive solar radiation (but surely this is underground? –ed)
In addition to the generally forbidding aspect, which Lightfoot sees as a benefit, the location of the company's bunkers in Kent, Berkshire and Suffolk is kept secret through non-disclosure agreements, one of which your reporter had to sign as a condition of entry.
Continuity is maintained by two direct but separate, three-phase 11kV links to the National Grid, enough water (250,000 litres of it), food and fuel to keep the site up and running for 90 days - Lightfoot couldn't or wouldn't say which resource would run out first - along with three layers of power security in the form of diesel generators and a whole roomful of lead-acid batteries.
Even though your taxes and mine paid for much of it - the MoD undertook a £46 million refit before selling it to A L Digital, which was recently acquired by The Bunker - the cost of buying it was "an order of magnitude less", according to sales and marketing director Thomas Nikolopulos. Otherwise, as he accepts, the business logic wouldn't work.
And the company is looking for more business. In today's climate of security-consciousness, regulatory insistence on adequate protection for data in the form of Sarbanes-Oxley, Basel II and others, and the possibility of companies who even inadvertently allow security to slip finding themselves laid open to legal attack, The Bunker could be spearheading a new and lucrative approach.