Nov 18, 2022 - Technology

The World Cup could become a hot bed for espionage

Illustration of a pattern of eyes looking around.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

This year's FIFA World Cup in Qatar is gearing up to be a hot spot for governments spying on their adversaries, researchers and officials cautioned this week.

Driving the news: Cybersecurity firm Recorded Future released a report Thursday warning that state-sponsored hacking groups are likely to see the World Cup as "target-rich environment" for spying on foreign dignitaries and businesspeople.

  • European data protection regulators have been advising their constituents against downloading Qatar's World Cup apps due to surveillance and national security concerns.
  • German authorities said one of the apps "collects data on whether and with which number a telephone call is made," Politico reports.

The big picture: International sports event have become a hotbed for cyber espionage campaigns, putting governments on high alert for unwelcome surveillance.

  • The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee advised Team USA to use burner phones while in Beijing for this year's Winter Olympics due to similar concerns, per the Wall Street Journal.

Between the lines: Recorded Future's researchers said digital spies tied to China and Iran are the most likely to carry out espionage campaigns targeting the tournament.

  • Iranian espionage groups have a history of spying on other Middle Eastern governments.

The intrigue: Russia is the likeliest nation to launch a disruptive attack against the World Cup as retaliation for FIFA's blanket ban on Russian soccer clubs from competitions after the invasion of Ukraine, according to the report.

Be smart: The report advises those attending the World Cup to use encrypted messaging apps, consider relying on a burner phone, and exercise caution when connecting to public WiFi networks.

Sign up for Axios’ cybersecurity newsletter Codebook here.

Go deeper