Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, spectator numbers* for the Beijing Winter Games have been restricted. Foreign visitors who would usually attend the games will therefore be heavily reliant on social media and streaming services to follow the sporting events. This increased dependence on digital infrastructure provides adversaries with an opportunity to disrupt such services using numerous techniques, including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or ransomware attacks.
With this in mind, the FBI has issued a warning** that cybercriminals could target the Beijing Winter Games, launching cyberattacks in an attempt to disrupt the live broadcast of the global sporting event.
Richard Hummel, ASERT Threat Intelligence Lead for NETSCOUT, has made the following comments about the cybersecurity risk as the events get underway:
“Global sporting events such as the Beijing Winter Games have always been a world stage, showcasing not only the brilliance of the athletes on show, but also the host nation. However, such a high-profile event comes with a number of risks, one of which is cybercriminal activities.
“These modern-day events necessitate a massive digital infrastructure, from telecommunications and video streaming to digital scoring and social media, all of which are heavily reliant on internet access. The very limited in-person attendance at this edition of the Winter Games will increase the reliance on digital infrastructure, making the sporting event a juicy target for threat actors.
“Indeed, cybercriminals have targeted recent editions of the Summer Games. The London Games in 2012 were the subject of sustained repeated DDoS attacks, including a threatened 40-minute attack on the central venue’s power system that resulted in significant allocation of resources to ensure power redundancies. The likely aim was to play havoc with the opening ceremony. Similarly, there was further activity at the Rio De Janeiro Games in 2016, with event-affiliated organisations targeted by a large-scale DDoS attack.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen an increase in DDoS attacks targeting internet service providers and attacks that damage the wider connectivity supply chain. It would be unsurprising if similar attacks were to happen at this edition of the Winter Games to cause maximum disruption. Further, one of the key verticals we witnessed significant increases in is the Internet Publishing and Broadcasting sector, which is home to many of the streaming services and video conferencing solutions which will no doubt be a key tool used in the winter games.
“It will be vital for all entities involved in the organisation of these games to collaborate with commercial providers, such as telecommunications businesses and internet service providers, as these organisations are often on the front line when it comes to experiencing cyberattacks.”