Risky In Rio: No Medals For Cybersecurity In 2016 Olympics

Olympic athletes spend their entire lives training to compete in the quadrennial event, some only seeing one chance at glory. So the last thing any athlete, coach, or national official wants to think about when spending weeks abroad is, “how can I not have my mobile device hacked?”

But it’s going to happen, unfortunately, due to a perfect storm of cybersecurity inefficiencies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, host city of the 2016 Olympics.

In a white paper by GRA Quantum, an information security firm, it’s not a matter of if, but when tourists and teams will have their mobile devices hacked while in Rio.

If the United States team of 554 male and female athletes didn’t head to South America prepared, GRA Quantum says, cybersecurity risks lurk with every tap of a mobile device.

“For communications, I would suggest a secure and encrypted messaging service,” said GRA Quantum spokesman Matt DeVivo. “This is something the Olympic committee could have worked out for its officials and athletes before going.”

If not, though, staying secure in Rio will be a daunting task.

According to the white paper, 26-percent of Wi-Fi networks in Sao Paulo, Brazil, are completely open, with another 12-percent able to be hacked within minutes.

“For mobile use in general, travelers should install a virtual private network on their device just as they would on their computer,” DeVivo said. “They should also only connect to trusted networks and turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth while moving around new areas.”

And while hacking a tourist’s mobile device can lead to a quick buck, cyber criminals also know members of large corporations will be in town, bringing with them high-level data and the opportunity for hackers to access enterprises at large.

“I would say everyone is at risk,” DeVivo said. “Hackers are as diverse as we are. While an individual or small group of hackers may target travelers as 'low-hanging fruit' for sport or small monetary gain, larger hacker organizations and nation-states will be looking to attack large corporations and foreign government personnel.”

The entire country’s cybersecurity defense is made up of about 100 members of the Brazilian Armed Forces, known as the Cyber Defense Center, and bolstered that staff to 200 ahead of the Games, the paper says.

Conversely, 2020 Olympics host city Tokyo has already ramped up its cybersecurity staff to 50,000 members, according to Nikkei.com. On top of the cyber manpower, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has requested 20 billion yen, or $161 million to be adequately prepared for the next summer Olympics, the report said.

The scale of cyber attacks can run the gamut, from password changes to attempts on cutting an entire city’s electric grid. During the London Olympics in 2012, CIO Gerry Pennell said there were 165 million security-related events – some as trivial as logon failures – including six “major” attacks that made their way to the tech chief’s desk during the two-week event, according to Computing.co.uk.

So for those attending the Games in Rio these next few days, keeping mobile devices in sync with fully secured networks will be paramount.

The same issues being faced in Rio this month, Mobile Cloud Computing and Security, will be the topic of Enterprise Mobility Exchange’s upcoming October event in Miami, featuring 40 CIOs, CISOs, and security directors from across all industries. Find out more about the event here.