Britain says Russia on cyber offensive to sabotage Tokyo Olympics

19 Oct 2020

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This picture shows the Olympics symbol with Tokyo 2021 in the backdrop. — Reuters/File
This picture shows the Olympics symbol with Tokyo 2021 in the backdrop. — Reuters/File

Britain on Monday condemned what it said were attempts by Russian military intelligence to disrupt next year's Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo with malicious cyberattacks.

British officials said Unit 74455 of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency had conducted “cyber reconnaissance” operations against Games organisers, logistics suppliers and sponsors.

They declined to give further details about the types of attacks or whether they were successful, but said the activity included creating fake websites and online accounts posing as key individuals to use in future hacking attempts.

“The GRU's actions against the Olympic and Paralympic Games are cynical and reckless. We condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Raab added that the announcement had been coordinated with international allies as part of an effort to “call out and counter” Russia's actions in cyberspace. The United States is expected to issue a statement later on Monday.

Russia was banned from the world's top sporting events for four years in December over widespread doping offences, including the Tokyo Games which were originally scheduled for this year but postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The attacks on the 2020 Games are the latest in a string of hacking attempts against international sporting organisations that Western officials and cybersecurity experts say have been orchestrated by Russia since its doping scandal erupted five years ago. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Britain said on Monday those attacks included a hack of the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in South Korea, which compromised hundreds of computers, took down Internet access and disrupted broadcast feeds.

The attack in South Korea had previously been linked to Russia by cybersecurity researchers but was made to look like the work of Chinese or North Korean hackers, Britain's foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The attacks on the 2020 Summer Games are the latest in a campaign of Russian malicious activity against the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” it said.

“The UK is confirming for the first time today the extent of GRU targeting of the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.”