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Hackers are also playing along: How cybercriminals attack sports events

The Olympics are all about athletic competition. But the Games and many other sporting events have long been the target of cybercriminals.  

Whether it was the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Pyeongchang or Tokyo, the Tour de France or the recent pan-European Championship, cybercriminals have carried out attacks on participating systems and networks at all of these major sporting events in recent years. But also state actors have tried to disrupt the games by cyberattacks in the past, as this report shows. The attackers’ goal here has usually been to use the big stage for themselves and humiliate the rival nation. Criminals, on the other hand, often target users’ private customer data that accumulates around sporting events.

The attack of bots

One way in which cybercriminals obtain sensitive data from fans is through the use of bots. During major sporting events, traffic to betting and gambling sites increases. Customers often leave sensitive data such as account information and even amounts of money there, which naturally offers criminals a lucrative target. Comment sections in particular are then increasingly spammed with bot messages. For example, bot traffic increased by 103 percent during the Tokyo Olympics, according to cybersecurity company Imperva. The use of bots also increased during EURO 2020. The great danger lies in the takeover of user accounts with the help of the bots and the resulting loss of account data and monetary amounts.

The goal Olympics

Once in a lifetime at the Olympics is a goal that hackers have also set for themselves. And successfully, as the attacks on the Games in London, Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang show. In London and Rio, so-called DDoS attacks were carried out on the power supply during the opening ceremony and on the systems of the organizers and participating organizations. In Pyeongchang, even the booking system for online tickets temporarily failed. However, the attackers here are likely to be less interested in sensitive data than in achieving political goals. Russian hackers have already been charged in the USA for the attacks on the Olympic Games.

Cyberattacks on sporting events are on the rise, in parallel with the general increase in such attacks in recent times. Sports competitions are thus increasingly becoming a battle between hackers and cybersecurity officers.

Source cover image: AdobeStock / leographics