Why did the Death Star rely on Storm Troopers instead of secure passwords?

As part of a series for Star Wars Day, Conor McKenna writes for Social Sciences Birmingham Forum:

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Star Wars presents its viewers with glimpses into a past where technology is years ahead of our own. Yet, policies put in place by the Empire, seemed to undermine many of the functions of this technology. From HoloNet restrictions to Astromech droid accessibility issues, the Empire struggled with cybersecurity on a daily basis and ultimately failed to overcome its challenges.

Akin to a limited Internet and television hybrid, the HoloNet enabled communication over vast regions of space within the Empire. Sharing important events and news from the centre of Imperial control on Coruscant was a critical component of the HoloNet. The widely-watched Imperial HoloNet News, was a propaganda tool for the Empire, which helped to ensure order and peace in the galaxy.

HoloNet was heavily censored to remove critiques of the system of government and to quell potential areas for dissent amongst its many citizens. But maintaining the HoloNet was a difficult task — the finances are unclear — beacuse the dangers presented by potential hijacking of networks or the creation of secret networks. The weight of the imperial control did not prevent a number of Rebel broadcasts taking place from secret locations throughout the galaxy.

HoloNet was indicative of a wider problem within the galaxy. When we examine the rescue of Leia Organa from the Death Star, we see the importance of R2D2, an Astromech droid that plays a critical role in identifying the cellblock. One would imagine that prison records would be kept under tighter control, especially given the importance of the captive. R2D2 appeared to encounter no firewalls nor tedious requests for identifying markers or passwords, or even “I am not a robot” captcha clicker. Then there was R2D2’s quick location of the power cell for the tractor beam, a critical piece of the imperial battle station.

There should have been serious concern over the lack of basic cybersecurity procedures at imperial installations. The ease at which Obi Wan Kenobi disabled the tractor beam’s power supply is astounding, even if it had to be manually disabled, affording it a degree of safety from the omnipotent R2D2 unit. The Rebel Alliance’s incursion on Skarif in search of the Death Star plans did not face a locked terminal in the Imperial building. Instead, the Empire appeared to rely on its infamously-poor Storm Troopers to protect information and access to critical systems, rather than choosing to invest in an up-to-date version of Windows.

Star Wars shows us that we need to take care with our cybersecurity policy. Ease of access is critical in a world where everything is on-demand, but we take risks with our information and security on a daily basis. From the small business owner to Premier League football, so many parts of our personal and professional lives take place online, often with little thought about security. Elevate this to the national level and we see states using cyber-attacks to bring down power grids, websites, and steal information.

If the Death Star could be brought by its carelessness, shouldn’t we ensure that The Cyber-Security Force is Always with Us?