Most gamblers were still asleep, and the gondoliers had yet to pole their way down the ersatz canal in front of the Venetian casino on the Las Vegas Strip. But early on the chilly morning of Feb. 10, just above the casino floor, the offices of the world’s largest gaming company were gripped by chaos. Computers were flatlining, e-mail was down, most phones didn’t work, and several of the technology systems that help run the $14 billion operation had sputtered to a halt. ... Computer engineers at Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) raced to figure out what was happening. Within an hour, they had a diagnosis: Sands was under a withering cyber attack. PCs and servers were shutting down in a cascading IT catastrophe, with many of their hard drives wiped clean. The company’s technical staff had never seen anything like it. ... The people who make the company work, from accountants to marketing managers, were staring at blank screens. “Hundreds of people were calling IT to tell them their computers weren’t working,” says James Pfeiffer, who worked in Sands’ risk-management department in Las Vegas at the time. Most people, he recalls, switched over to their cell phones and personal e-mail accounts to communicate with co-workers. Numerous systems were felled, including those that run the loyalty rewards plans for Sands customers; programs that monitor the performance and payout of slot machines and table games at Sands’ U.S. casinos; and a multimillion-dollar storage system. ... In an effort to save as many machines as they could, IT staffers scrambled across the casino floors of Sands’ Vegas properties—the Venetian and its sister hotel, the Palazzo—ripping network cords out of every functioning computer they could find, including PCs used by pit bosses to track gamblers and kiosks where slots players cash in their tickets. ... This was no Ocean’s Eleven. The hackers were not trying to empty a vault of cash, nor were they after customer credit card data, as in recent attacks on Target (TGT), Neiman Marcus, and Home Depot (HD). This was personal. The perpetrators wanted to punish the company, or, more precisely, its chief executive officer and majority owner, the billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Although confirming their conjectures would take some time, executives suspected almost immediately the assault was coming from Iran.
It has always been easy to underestimate Mark Davis. After all, he is known for his wacky bowl cut and silver-and-black suits and for managing the Raiders from the bar at a P.F. Chang's. Since his Hall of Fame father, Al, died six years ago, Davis has been an afterthought in league circles, easy to malign and hard to take seriously. ... Adelson considered the Raiders' move a chance to help him shift a windfall of public money away from a competitor's convention center renovation -- and a chance to enhance his legacy by delivering an NFL franchise to his home city, sweetened by a stake in a gleaming, state-of-the-art $1.9 billion domed stadium and, perhaps, a piece of the team. ... What no one could see then is that, after making good on his word by delivering an American-record $750 million in public funds for the stadium and pledging $650 million of his own money, Adelson would end up furious a year later, feeling that Mark Davis -- the goofy Mark Davis who "surprises people if he can roll out of bed and put on his pants," as a team owner says -- had completely and utterly fleeced him.