Ok, now that we have got your attention, let us turn to more mundane technological issues.

Do you know the difference between a ‘Bayda’ (Morocco) and ’Amarrabola’ (Peru)? Or even a ‘Palomita’ (Argentina) and ‘Hjólhestaspyrna’ (Iceland)? (Tom Williams, Do You Speak Football?: A Glossary of Football Words and Phrases from Around the World (Bloomsbury Sport) 3 May 2018). The World Cup is back and everyone, everywhere is talking about it.

For the first time ever, this tournament will make use of Video Assisted Referees. This technological development is nothing however compared to the organisers’ plans in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. One initiative is to use new analytical capabilities to detect the speed of swimmers and display it real time on TV broadcasts. Other plans include using cameras to determine the heart rate of athletes.

Over the past few years, sport’s reliance on ‘smart’ technologies has increased. From scoring and judging systems to retail transactions and the home viewer experience, many aspects of major sporting events are totally digital. Along with such new technology comes great opportunity – but also great risk.

Cyber threats to International Sporting Events

Cyber threats are nothing new. During the 2014 World Cup, Brazilian officials faced an onslaught of phishing attacks from ‘hacktivists’, who successfully infiltrated email accounts of Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees, who were helping to organise the Cup. Most recently, in the 2018 Winter Olympics, a cyberattack took place during the event’s opening ceremonies in Pyeongchang which affected internet and television access.

Traditionally there have been four categories of cyberattacks on major sporting events:

  1. infiltration of sporting websites and IT systems;
  2. ticket related scams;
  3. the hacking and release of sensitive athlete data; and
  4. the risk of fans’ devices being hacked while attending an event.

The proliferation of the Internet of Things is changing the face of the cybersecurity of sports, adding digital dimensions where there were none before. Digital technologies are now focal to almost every facet of the sporting experience, from scoring systems to athlete care, from ‘smart’ stadiums to device-enhanced viewing experiences for fans. Current trends include: video reviews incorporating technology designed to aid in officials’ decisions; increased interest in data collection on athlete performance; growth in wearable devices; and increased viewer immersion in sports through technology, including virtual reality and drones.

According to a report released by the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC), “The Cybersecurity of Olympic Sports: New Opportunities, New Risks”, the increasing use of technology in sport (whilst bringing lots of opportunities) could potentially damage the integrity of sport and add to spectator, sponsor and safety concerns relating to the players/athletes.

Managing the risk

Everyone faces potential cyber risks: from the spectators to the players, and even the ticketing officers.

We have set out some cyber safety tips to keep in mind before, during and after the World Cup:

  1. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks and public charging stations. Using public Wi-Fi networks could compromise your security and public chargers may have been tampered with to infect your device with malicious software.
  2. Be wary of scams of phishing emails. As enticing as the prospect of a “Free Ticket” to the World Cup may be, do not click on any links in emails marketing or referencing the event.
  3. Be vigilant when using ATMs. Look out for evidence of machine tampering: some skimming devices can be spotted by a quick wiggle of the card reader or through visible marks on the PIN code area. To help lessen the impact of Point of Sale malware and ATM skimming, alternative forms of payment like chip and pin, pre-paid and pre-capped cards should be considered.

For further information please contact Simon Halberstam at simon.halberstam@smab.co.uk, head of the technology law team.