Cyber attacks to surge at Olympics, Israeli security firm warns

Based on analysis of previous sports events, Cytegic anticipates that hackers will dupe fans with counterfeit deals

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

A weightlifter participates in the women's 75 kg event in the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Israel is set to host its first European weightlifting championship in April 2014. (illustrative photo credit: CC BY Simon Q/Flickr)
A weightlifter participates in the women's 75 kg event in the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Israel is set to host its first European weightlifting championship in April 2014. (illustrative photo credit: CC BY Simon Q/Flickr)

Studying previous sporting events through its intelligence analysis platform, Tel Aviv-based Cytegic, a cybersecurity company, has identified a surge of cyber activity ahead of and during major global sporting events. This same activity is expected to surge in the weeks ahead of and during the Olympics in Brazil in August this year, the company warns.

Hackers set up sites to sell counterfeit tickets and travel packages. They also increase their activity on the political sphere, attacking government sites to call attention to their causes.

Most of the attacks were expected to be against the banking and financial services sector, retail companies, and government agencies.

“Government institutions and banks must be prepared for possible attacks and increase awareness and training of their employees who have access to the most valuable information,” said Dan Pastor, head of intelligence at Cytegic. “They must make sure they implement security controls on their networks, web applications and infrastructure.”

Attacks could come in the shape of denial of service, defacement, ransomware — when malicious software that can by installed into a computer without the knowledge or intention of the user — and social engineering, when people are manipulated into taking actions or divulging confidential information, he said.

Cytegic has developed software that can gather, process and analyze thousands of intelligence feeds from multiple sources, within the company and from external sources, to provide “a quick and clear analysis of cyber-trends and patterns” and forecast possible future threats, Pastor said.

Set up in 2012, the company has been selling its software to banks, healthcare centers, airlines and governments in the US and Europe, Carmi Gillon, the company’s chairman and a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, service said.

During the 2014 FIFA World Cup held in Brazil, the country suffered from almost 90,000 cyber attacks in a 30-day period, starting from three weeks before kick-off to the first week of the tournament, a report by Kapersky Labs revealed. And studies by Cytegic surrounding previous major sporting events, including the 2015 Copa America tournament and the UEFA Champions League finals in 2015 and 2016, showed the same behavior and similar patterns to what happened at the FIFA 2014 tournament.

The company’s intelligence analysis platform has identified that at these events financial hackers were the most active, targeting mainly government entities and banking and finance organizations. There was also a substantial increase in financially motivated attacks on retail websites, hotels, transportation and banking and finance organizations.

The hackers’ objectives were mainly to steal personal information and financial information such as payment cards details and bank accounts or to hijack services so they can lure end users to give their information through phishing websites offering tickets, for example, Pastor said.

At the same time, politically motivated hackers — mainly hacktivists who mostly want to attract attention by causing a sensation — increase their activities against government assets and media targets, aiming to increase their public profile. This is usually done in order to protest against corruption in the hosting nation or that of sponsors.

In the weeks leading up to the Olympics and during the games, as in previous events, there is expected to be a rise in in financially driven cyber activity, targeting the banking and finance industry and retailers, mainly payment cards, bank accounts, client data and services to clients.

Political activists, sensationalists and nation-backed attackers are likely to attempt attacks on government and media, targeting their websites and services to clients due to their high-profile nature. And in case of a physical terror attack in one of Brazil’s cities or a high security alert, politically driven cyber activity, including that of cyber-terrorists, will likely increase substantially, targeting the defense sector as well, Pastor said.

Ahead of these attacks, the private and the public sector must strengthen their anti-phishing and social engineering training and awareness among their employees and managers, put in place strong web application firewalls and use automated cyber risk assessments to increase resilience, Pastor said.

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