Cyber Security Risks to Football Teams and Players

In today’s competitive sporting environment, teams not only have to worry about their performance on the field, but also the business side of sports. With leagues, teams and athletes increasingly turning to technology; be it social media, mobile apps, virtual reality or big data-for tactics or business development, hackers have started seeing the value of such data. Cyber security has become a major worry for high-profile sports organizations such as football teams in the NFL and CFL. The following is a look at some of the threats posed by cyber criminals and how teams can protect themselves on the Internet.

Hacking of Social Media Accounts

One of the most common cyber-security threats faced by sports organizations and athletes is the hacking of their social media accounts. Recently, a hacker was able to tweet from the NFL’s official Twitter account to post a hoax message about the death of the NFL commissioner which had to be quickly denied. In another incident, Laremy Tunsil, expected to be one of the first players picked in the 2016 NFL draft, saw his prospects diminish after a video of him using a gas mask bong appeared on his social media accounts. To add insult to injury, screenshots of a conversation between the player and a former college coach popped up on his Instagram and they appeared to show him accepting money to pay his mother’s rent and light bills.

Athletes Not Helping Themselves

Hacking of social media accounts in the sports world can cause a lot of damage. From sending offensive and abusive tweets to revealing intimate or unsavory details of someone’s personal life, hackers can really make their lives miserable. NFL and CFL athletes are also their own worst enemy as they routinely make mistakes when using social media. The good news is that with a bit of training and monitoring, a sports organization can ensure that it doesn’t fall prey to hackers and that its athletes stay on the straight and narrow with regards to social media usage.

Identity Theft

Three former Football stars were arrested by the FBI on charges relating to a scheme to steal identities and file false tax returns worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The suspects used false identities of NFL players whose tax refunds they had stolen and then attempted to cash them. Unbeknownst to them, the FBI was running a sting operation using a store that allegedly helped people cash fraudulent checks for a fraction of their value. One of the suspects, Michael Bennet, received a $150,000 loan on account of collateral showing he had $9 million in his bank account. He was arrested as soon as he received the check.

Once a Player

In a recent case in Colorado, a convicted thief pretended to be an NFL player in order to gain the confidence of his identity theft victims. His victims were told that he was once a professional footballer, playing for the Denver Broncos. Through his clever social engineering, he was able to obtain their financial information, which he used illegally to acquire loans with which he bought expensive cars. The harm done was so serious that one of the persons conned had to file for bankruptcy.

Extortion Related to Cyber Security

Cyber Extortion happens when a hacker attacks or threatens to attack and then demands money to avert or stop the attack. As an athlete or sporting organization grows their presence on the Internet, the threat posed by cyber criminals also increases. A hacker can contact an NFL or CFL team and offer to stop a looming cyber- attack on the team’s website and social media accounts for a certain sum of money. Ransomware has hit several industries, for example, the health care industry. Sports teams should pay close attention to this damaging problem and implement a program to create regular backups of their important data.

Employees Can Also Extort

Disgruntled personnel can also be the cause of extortion with relation to cyber security. For instance, a team’s employees can use their access to the team’s servers to steal customer information, destroy data, or make unauthorized charges to the team’s accounts. Employees may also threaten sabotage and extort money from a team. Sensitive information about players such as their medical records may be stolen and a team forced to pay money for the information not to be released.

Beware When Using Mobile Apps

Another method of cyber-attack is to disguise a virus or malware as an innocent-looking mobile app. When users download the app, it steals their information and this can be used by hackers for financial fraud. Even a team’s mobile app may have vulnerabilities that enable hackers to steal data. Users also make it easy for hackers by reusing passwords on multiple accounts. So if a hacker obtains usernames and passwords when people use NFL and CFL mobile apps, they could also obtain financial information that could be used to steal millions of dollars from thousands of people.

Stadium Security

Hackers will also target stadiums for their cyber-attacks. Imagine a scenario where someone hacks into a team’s Wi-Fi network and thousands of fans watching a football game have their data stolen while they are on Facebook and Instagram posting pictures while enjoying the game. A hacker can also knockout a stadium’s computer system and provide false information to fans or turn off important systems such as fans and lights. A hacker can cause physical harm to fans by overloading vital systems and causing physical damage to a stadium’s infrastructure. In a worst case scenario, terrorists may coordinate their activities for planning an attack on a stadium or other venue.

Preventing Cyber Attacks

One way of increasing a team’s cyber-security is by hiring a firm to oversee the entire organization’s cyberspace activities. A strong internal security policy along with a constant continuing education program will go a long way in preventing the more common cyber-attacks. In addition to implementing best practices, staying connected through a robust threat intelligence platform to a community of other teams will help sporting organizations to stay informed of current and active threats. Even though cyber criminals have become increasingly advanced, with the right approach and a bit of common sense, we can learn to stay one step ahead of them.


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