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Cyber threats loom over major sporting events, Microsoft study reveals

24.08.2023
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In an era where the digital realm infiltrates every corner of our lives, the realm of sports emerges as an unexpected battleground against the menace of cyber threats. A groundbreaking investigation titled "State of Play", orchestrated by tech giant Microsoft, has uncovered a disquieting reality: major sporting events are not immune to the insidious grasp of cybersecurity risks. This comprehensive study brings to light the elevated perils that loom over these grand spectacles, underscoring the fertile ground they provide for cybercriminals to exploit interconnected systems and networks.

Illustrating this newfound vulnerability is the case of the 2022 FIFA World Cup held in Qatar. In a role responsible for safeguarding the cybersecurity of the event's critical infrastructure, Microsoft bore witness to an unrelenting barrage of attempts by malicious actors to infiltrate the integrated systems. These perpetrators honed in on vulnerabilities rooted in identity-based weaknesses.

Offering insight into the challenges faced, Justin Turner, the Principal Group Manager at Microsoft Security Research, articulated: “The realm of sports introduces a unique facet to the cybersecurity landscape – an intricate tapestry of IT assets and operations. This dynamic environment comprises a multitude of mobile devices not guided by a VPN service, spanning across teams, staff, and an expansive network encompassing stadiums, training facilities, hotels, and beyond. Furthermore, these connections are in a constant state of flux, dictated by tournament schedules and team performance dynamics".

This sprawling and fluid digital ecosystem presents an array of opportunities for cyber adversaries. Exploiting these vulnerabilities, they can target mobile payment systems, manipulate participants through social engineering tactics, and zero in on devices that remain unpatched or harbour configuration vulnerabilities. The complexity of the security framework is further magnified by the involvement of multiple stakeholders overseeing diverse systems, including corporate sponsors, local authorities, and third-party contractors. Also, read Hackers steal passwords, emails from hookup websites.

Leading voices in the realm of cybersecurity, hailing from Approov and Cyware, have lent their expertise to this pressing issue, providing invaluable perspectives:

George McGregor, Vice President at Approov, drew attention to the vulnerabilities intrinsic to applications developed exclusively for such events. Taking the example of the FIFA Women’s World Cup app, which garnered over 10 million downloads on the Android platform, McGregor remarked: “These applications, designed to offer an immersive event experience, could inadvertently evolve into cyber liabilities. In the absence of robust protection mechanisms, they might inadvertently expose sensitive financial information or serve as conduits for broader attacks on the infrastructure".

Amit Patel, Senior Vice President at Cyware, accentuated the inherent allure of large-scale gatherings for cyber assailants. Patel expounded: “Whenever we witness the convergence of tens of thousands upon a shared digital infrastructure, it is akin to laying out a welcome mat for cyber-malefactors. Acknowledging this, major sports leagues are now embracing the significance of unified security measures, transcending localised solutions. By establishing a global threat monitoring system and automating the sharing of intelligence across leagues and venues, the potential for such risks to proliferate can be significantly curtailed".

The revelations brought forth by Microsoft's extensive study serve as a poignant reminder that as technology weaves itself more intricately into the fabric of everyday life, including the realm of sports, proactive and multi-faceted cybersecurity, which includes a reliable hide VPN, emerges as an absolute imperative.