Convention puts GOP tech to the test

Convention puts GOP tech to the test
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The team behind the Republican National Convention has spent more than a year building their technology infrastructure for the big event.

Now that work is being put to the test, as the convention kicks off in Cleveland.

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“We’re launching a startup every four years,” said Max Everett, the chief information officer for the Republican National Convention, of the massive effort to keep attendees informed, connected and secure.

It takes more than a year for Everett to set up a convention — he’s worked on four — with networks built from the ground up each time.

“We’ve had staff, including myself, who’ve been in and out of Cleveland for over a year now,” Everett told The Hill.

The party is also working with tech and communications giants, including Google, Microsoft and AT&T, to deliver services.

Here are some of the notable ways the GOP is using technology to cater to the estimated 50,000 people — not counting protesters — who will attend and cover the convention.

 

Expanded Wi-fi:

A great amount of work has gone into getting the convention venue, Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, ready to handle the thousands of devices expected to connect to its public Wi-Fi network.

Everett said his team expects somewhere in the range of 10,000 or 15,000 devices to be connected to the main wireless network during the convention, on top of separate networks for event staff and the media.

Convention planners worked with AT&T to bolster their internet capacity, as data use skyrockets.

“There’s a lot more bandwidth because everybody’s moved from sending photos to sending videos and streaming live, and so the wired bandwidth we’ve had to get from AT&T is exponentially larger,” said Everett.

There's been extra attention on Wi-fi for the convention floor to handle the expected flood of live Snapchat and Facebook Live videos.

Everett said the work would help "delegates really share the experience here online."

Wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon have also built out their networks in advance of the crush of convention-goers descending on Cleveland. Verizon said it had doubled capacity in and around the arena, while its rival — the convention’s official communications partner — has tripled capacity in downtown Cleveland.

“They’ve reached the limits of physics in the arena,” said Everett. “We’re at the point where we actually couldn’t put any more antennas in here unless we wanted to pop popcorn on the floor.”

 

Strong connections for video:

Those not in Cleveland will have options to stream the convention’s many speeches and events.

Google is the official livestream provider and the GOP is streaming the convention in its own mobile application.

In addition, Twitch, the Amazon-owned website better known for broadcasting video games, will stream from both Cleveland and the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

“We see this as a public service,” said the company’s Brian Petrocelli in a blog post.

Twitter is also streaming the convention through a partnership with CBS News as is Microsoft’s search engine Bing.

All of this live video requires a strong internet connection.

“We’ve spent a lot of time making sure that they have dedicated fiber connections back out on the internet so they can get their streams out live,” Everett said.

 

Cybersecurity:

Everett said his convention networks have been breached "like any organization."

He wouldn't say how often hackers have gotten in, only that it has happened at every event. The trick will be finding them and kicking them out.

“My focus is much more about the detection on the inside,” he said.

Normally, the job of keeping hackers from causing havoc is like a chess match. It can be a time consuming process on both sides. Hackers perform reconnaissance and IT staff sometimes allow them to maintain access to learn more about them.

But with a network only online for four days, there is no time for research.

“We're not going to have weeks to diagnose and do some sort of forensics on it. We're not going to see hackers doing reconnaissance,” said Ellen Sundra, director of systems engineering at ForeScout, which is providing network monitoring equipment for the event. “We need to stop it and move on to the next threat.”

While the technology keeps changing, Everett said the types of attacks are constant.

“People's alleged motivations change from year to year, but really what we expect to see really does not change very much,” he said. “The technology changes, but the underlying methods don’t.”

This year he expects attackers to focus on the same two kinds of attacks the convention has seen in the past. One is tricking people into giving up passwords, including through phishing emails. The other is distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, an activist favorite that uses vast networks of computers to overwhelm a target with so much traffic that it is knocked offline.

The hacking collective Anonymous has threatened such attacks in their "War on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE."

 

A beefed-up app:

Not all of the convention’s technology is behind-the-scenes. When convention planners released their mobile app for the event, it was downloaded more times in its first week online than the total for the 2012 convention app.

It’s a stark demonstration of the increasing importance of reaching attendees on their smartphones.

Audrey Scagnelli, a spokesperson for the convention, said that the application this year is more evolved than the one used in Tampa, Fla. during 2012.

“It’s much more expansive,” she said.

Delegates can get turn-by-turn directions inside the arena to get them, for example, from their seat to the nearest restroom. The app also includes live streams of the convention in both standard and 360 degree video.