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By SecureWorld News Team
Thu | Oct 12, 2017 | 9:52 AM PDT

For many Americans, it was a high point of the Olympic Games in Rio: The U.S. women's gymnastics team won Olympic gold, beating Russia by a wide margin. 

The final women's gymnastics team score in the Rio Olympics looked like this: Americans 184.897 points for the gold, Russians 176.688 for the silver.

But what if hackers accessed the scoring system and lowered the American scores a fraction in each of the all-around events while boosting each of the Russian scores?

It could have been Russia taking home the gold, but only because the scoring system said so, not because they were truly the best.

Integrity of Olympic scoring at risk

"Digital technologies pose an increasingly diverse set of threats to Olympic events, and the newer forms of threat are likely to have more serious consequences."

This comes straight from a new study, The Cybersecurity of Olympic Sports, by UC Berkeley's Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC).

"Hacks affecting the integrity of sports are of special concern because they can be extremely difficult to identify. Especially in sports where referees make many small decisions that affect the result, it is very difficult to detect when a digital system has been compromised." the CLTC study says.

"While most hacks today focus on sports stadium IT systems and ticket operations, future risks will include hacks that cut to the integrity of the sporting event results, as well as to core stadiums operations."

Physical safety of sports fans linked to cybersecurity

Imagine you're watching at the track and field competition with 80,000 Olympic fans from around the world. The big screens suddenly read something like, "Bomb detected, exit stadium immediately."

You panic, and security and stadium announcers have no idea what is going on. There is pushing and shoving and people trampled as they fit through tunnels to the main exits.

Then, it turns out it was just a hacker who got into the display system and wanted to play a sick joke.

This is one of the types of cyber attacks that could impact the safety of the Olympics or any large event, and researchers look at scenarios like these.

8 areas of cybersecurity risk for future sporting events, identified by researchers

The sports cybersecurity report says connectivity and interactivity offer opportunity like never before, along with an extremely wide attack vector in the following areas:

  • Stadium system hacks
  • Scoring system hacks
  • Photo and video replay system hacks
  • Athlete care hacks
  • Entry manipulation
  • Transportation hacks
  • Hacks to facilitate terrorism or kidnapping
  • Panic-inducing hacks

Framework for cybersecurity in sports

The Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity offers up a risk framework for cybersecurity in sports, using the "Failure Mode and Effects Analysis" and applying it to this unique set of sports cybersecurity risks. Researchers looked at severity, occurrence, and detectability.

“This report examines the potential impacts of digital technology in all aspects of sports, from how athletes train to how officials make decisions,” says Betsy Cooper, Executive Director of the CLTC and lead author of the report. “We hope our research will help organizers of the Olympics and other major sporting events as they think about planning for security today and into the future.”

A future where cybersecurity is incorporated into new technologies used in sports, instead of bolted on as an afterthought.

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