WASHINGTON: The Olympic Games offer a tempting target for hackers and other malicious actors, with potentially devastating consequences for one of the world’s premier sporting events, researchers said Tuesday.
A report by University of California researchers said the efforts to disrupt the 2016 US election should serve as warning about the impact of a cyber-attack on the games.
The report released four months ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Games cited “an increasing supply of opportunities for digital manipulation as sports incorporate new technologies designed to improve athlete training, accessorize the fan experience, and even help officials decide the results.”
The researchers said hackers could do damage by infiltrating stadium or scoring systems, or by releasing sensitive data on athletes. Fans or transport systems could also be targeted.
“Most serious would be physical harm caused to the athletes or spectators; in such a case, the event would be overshadowed and likely cancelled as a result of these more serious harms,” said the report by the university’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity.
“Attacks on the integrity of the sporting event would also be serious… interference with the outcome could result in a decreased sense of trust that would have lasting impacts on the sport.”
Cybersecurity has become more important as sporting events have introduced new technologies for everything from tickets to replays and scoring verification.
In recent years, hackers have increasingly sought to target sporting events, the researchers noted.
In one case, the hacker group known as Anonymous hacked into the Formula One website to protest a race held in Bahrain. And during the 2014 World Cup of football, phishing attacks from “hacktivists” infiltrated email accounts local for many Brazilian officials organizing the event.
Betsy Cooper, director of the center, said the report does not seek to evaluate how well-prepared Olympics organizers are for cybersecurity.
“Because the landscape of sports is changing so dramatically, it would be very difficult to predict today what that future risk landscape might look like even in a few years, let alone in 2024 or 2028,” she said.
“It’s very clear from our research that those in charge of preparing for future Olympic Games are taking security extremely seriously, which will be a great benefit as those games go forward.”