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Step inside the Arctic World Vault

With all the news about hackers and cybercrime, do you sometimes wonder if there’s any place where data is safe? Well, there is. And it’s in a place so cold and heavily secured, the company behind this storage facility guarantees that data stored there is safe from things like natural disasters and will be for hundreds of years.

It’s called the Arctic World Vault, and it’s located somewhere you’d never expect. The average high temperature is 23 degrees and the average low is 13! Brrrr….

So, who would want to live in a place like this? It may not be the ideal place for building a home and raising a family, but it’s a great place to store seeds from crops and sensitive digital data in vaults. The place I’m referring to is a group of Norwegian Islands about 620 miles from the North Pole.

In a recent podcast, Kim spoke with Rune Bjerkestrand, the Founder and Managing Director of Piql – a Norwegian Technology company that has spent more than $33 million on research and development for technology that allows sensitive data to be stored for hundreds of years. Here are some highlights!

What is the Arctic Vault?

In 2008, the so-called Arctic Doomsday vault opened that stores millions of seeds from crops around the world so they’d still be able to grow food in case their food supply is wiped out.  The second one just opened in March 2017. The Arctic World vault stores digital data and photographs.

Even if you wanted to brave the cold weather to try and find these vaults, it would be pretty tough. Not only are they located in a remote area, but they’re also underground inside a mountain.

The Arctic World Vault is located on this arctic island of Svalbard, which is around 1,000 km from the North Pole, between the Norwegian mainland and the north pole, with the sstate-owned mining company  and they’ve been up there for more than 100 years. The location of the vault is in a coal mine that was abandoned back in 1995.

It’s considered a safe place to store digital data for many reasons, including the fact that this group of islands are considered demilitarized by 42 countries.  

The vault is only storing data at the moment. In order to scan objects or to store data, there’s a special process that’s involved. Before any data or photographs reach the vault they must be transferred to the company’s long-term data form. Named after the company, Piql film converts data into a “migration free preservation medium.”

The client transfers their data either to a virtual collection or to a physical transfer to a Piql partner that is receiving the data and writes them to Piql film. And the data is converted into a very high resolution that’s written to film.

Why store data in the Arctic?

The permafrost conditions lend themselves well to this type of data storage. Inside the mine, it’s 5-to-7 degrees below zero so data lasts a lot longer.

It’s the combination of the medium with the unique longevity of the properties and a self-contained property of the Piql film, which has a shelf life of 500 years and up there, possibly 1,000. And that’s why the climatic conditions are ideal for storing data on film.

What about security?

Photo Caption: From left to right: Hanne Sørvåg (Norwegian singer/songwriter), Ricardo Marques (Director, Brazil National Archives), Rune Bjerkestrand (Managing Director Piql AS), Erick Cardoso (Director of Information Technology, Mexican National Archives)

As you can imagine, security is tight at the Arctic World Vault. To begin, the vault is on a special island regulated by an international treaty that has been in operation since the 1950s.

Major super powers of this world have all signed a treaty and accepted this to be demilitarized under Norwegian control. It’s a very geo-political stable island.

Aside from that, the vault is so secure, it’s safeguarded against a natural disaster or nuclear attack.

The medium itself — the photosensitive film medium — has a very strong respect to any kind of radiation, the electromagnetic radiation. But here it’s basically stored 300 meters down, 200 meters inside with security levels and double locked doors and gates and it’s really secure from anything — any physical and any logical threat you can imagine.

Photo Caption: Ricardo Marques (Director, Brazil National Archives) and Erick Cardoso (Director of Information Technology; Mexican National Archives) after having deposited their data in the vault.

The company doesn’t worry about hackers either. All the data that’s stored in the vault is offline, meaning no one can access it from the outside.

There’s, of course, many physical threats to date but I think even more dangerous are the logical threats because data is stored in an online IT infrastructure, they’re all at risk for cyber hacking, cyber crime and data manipulation. So they offer a service and a location, which is truly offline and truly stored in a space where you can trust your data will be accessible in the future and they are the guaranteed authentic data.

Can you store your own data?

While organizations and companies can store data in the vault, individuals are not.

We already have had requests from private consumers but we’re not able to deal with that kind of request at this stage. But we clearly see there’s an interest from private persons to store their family memories, their videos, their pictures, their private documents. So we think we can do a lot to service those needs later on.

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