Statue of Lenin outside football stadium in Russia

World Cup 2018 hackers will target players and punters, warns US security chief

Image credit: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Centre has warned football fans that they could be subject to hacking if they bring their electronic devices to the World Cup in Russia, he said in a statement to Reuters.

According to William Evanina, director of the agency, even football fans who consider themselves politically insignificant could risk being targeted by hackers affiliated with criminal groups or the Russian government.

“If you’re planning on taking a mobile phone, laptop, PDA or other electronic device with you, make no mistake, any data on those devices (especially your personally identifiable information) may be accessed by the Russian government or cyber criminals,” he told Reuters.

“Corporate and government officials are most at risk, but don’t assume you’re too insignificant to be targeted,” he added. “If you can do without the device, don’t take it. If you must take one, take a different device from your usual one and remove the battery when not in use.”

‘Burner’ devices are frequently used by government officials and other people employed in sensitive work. These secure, stripped-down devices are used for a short period of time before being replaced, mitigating the possibility that large quantities of sensitive information could be acquired by hackers from the device. Last month, it was reported that US President Donald Trump considered it “too inconvenient” to use burner phones to use Twitter and read the news.

Another US official told Reuters that their British counterparts had issued similar warnings, including to the England football team. The National Cyber Security Centre has briefed the Football Association, including the entire England squad, ahead of its departure for the competition.

The team has been warned that they are “soft targets” for hackers. Their devices have been buttressed with extra security software and have been vetted by cyber-security experts. The team has also received advice on how to conceal their belongings in their hotel rooms, to assume they will never have complete privacy and to avoid using public WiFi and online banking apps.

While cyber-security cautions are issued before all major international sporting events, concerns are intensifying ahead of Russia’s turn at hosting the international football competition. The country has been accused repeatedly by other national intelligence agencies of attempting to interfere in elections and meddle with crucial infrastructure using state-backed hackers and online influencers, most notably in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. The Kremlin has denied all allegations.

Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that anonymous US officials believed that Kremlin-backed hackers were responsible for a cyber attack during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, attempting to give the attack the appearance of North Korean origins.

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