An assistant, standing before a collection of networked computer gear plus a cooling fan, plugged a cable into a laptop. Soon a light on one of the boxes started flashing: The fan was in trouble. It clicked, then stuttered, then moaned to a halt. The equipment soon would have melted down—literally—had the attack occurred in a real data center.
Mr. Noteboom isn’t a hacker. He is the founder of Litbit, a startup launched two years ago to address a widespread security threat that generally has gone unrecognized: The underlying equipment that typically supports data-center networks—backup generators, thermostats, air conditioners, and the like—are vulnerable to a cyberattack that would have the potential to take down the entire operation.
These “industrial control systems” are fixtures not only in data centers but in commercial buildings and factories.
While networked computers are upgraded frequently, the equipment in this underlying layer may be on a refresh schedule measured in decades. They use hoary communication standards that lack basic security features such as password protection.
Information-security personnel don’t expect those industrial systems to be wired to the computer networks they power or cool, yet they are often connected.
Beyond the enhanced security, RhythmOS offers programmable control and management functions that cut costs, Mr. Noteboom said. At Litbit’s headquarters, Mr. Noteboom showed off an iPhone app that gathered temperature, humidity and air pressure readings from a sensor on a computer rack. The app would notify him of vibrations in the room—an early sign that a hard disk was about to fail.
Vincent Hu of Zhongwei, China, is overseeing the construction of a large data center for a leading U.S. cloud-computing company. Before starting the project, Mr. Hu tried to find another product that could help him boost efficiency and lock down the data center’s security, and so far seems satisfied with the test version of the software. “The Litbit software platform enables our data center to be the most efficient and it does this with high performance and security,” he said.