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Cyberattack hits the Winter Olympics

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

13 February 2018

A spokesman for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics this week confirmed that the Games were hit by a cyberattack during the opening ceremony on Friday 9th Feb.

The official website was taken offline, some internal servers were crashed, public WiFi was disrupted and some TV systems at the Games were also affected. However, all operations were restored within twelve hours, meaning that the systems were fully operational by the Saturday morning.

Cyber-security experts and even the Department of Homeland Security have for months been warning of the likelihood of an attack, given the large numbers in physical attendance and the enormous audience via TV and online.

While organizers are said to know the source of the issue, they have decided not to reveal it. Researchers from Cisco’s Talos Intelligence Group have since analyzed the data and have stated that the reason for the attack was to cause chaos, rather than for reasons of espionage or financial gain.

In fact, the malware used to commit the attacks targeted the data on the Olympic servers, deleting it and stopping the recovery process, meaning that the intention was never to steal information. Furthermore, it appears that the attackers had inside information of the systems, including passwords and server names, suggesting that the Olympics system may have been made vulnerable long before the opening ceremony.

Cisco researchers Warren Mercer and Paul Rascagneres said:

Wiping all available methods of recovery shows this attacker had no intention of leaving the machine useable.

The sole purpose of this malware is to perform destruction of the host and leave the computer system offline.

If, as the researchers claim, the intention of the attack was to cause chaos, then it may be considered something of a failure; many watching the Games won’t even have been aware of the attack, and it certainly didn’t stop the competition going forwards.

Of course, this may be that cyber-security is very much heightened around the Olympics; for the London 2012 Games, security experts fought back a significant onslaught of attacks.

Will there be another attempt before this year’s Games are over? We can only wait and see.

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