Jun 11, 2024 - Technology

Russian hackers throw their weight against the Paris Olympics

Animated illustration of text message bubbles forming the Olympic rings.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Russian hackers are already on full display in the lead-up to next month's Summer Olympics in Paris.

Why it matters: The Summer Games are facing a long list of nation-state and criminal cyber threats that will likely intensify over the next six weeks, experts warn.

Driving the news: Three cybersecurity firms released reports last week detailing the threats they're already seeing and anticipating at the Paris Olympics.

  • Microsoft said two Russian influence teams — Storm-1679 and Storm-1099 — released a series of videos designed to question the safety of the Games and ridicule the organizers. In one operation, a group released a documentary that featured a deepfake of Tom Cruise's voice.
  • Google Cloud's Mandiant said Russia poses the "greatest risk to the Olympics," noting that pro-Russian information operations have already started spreading falsehoods about the French government's preparedness for the Games.
  • Recorded Future warned that Olympics-themed phishing emails are likely to target businesses and attendees.

Threat level: Experts expect Russia-backed hackers and other adversaries to start pre-positioning and breaking into key networks in the coming weeks so they can more easily launch destructive attacks during the event — as well as continue to amplify disinformation.

  • The Olympics also face threats from ransomware gangs, politically motivated hackers and adversarial nations' espionage teams, Mandiant warned.
  • China, North Korea and Iran are each expected to spy on those attending, the reports said.

Between the lines: Each cybersecurity company's report named Russia-linked operations as the top cybersecurity threat facing the Games.

  • Olympic organizers have banned Russian athletes from competing in team events under their country's flag due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • And France has staunchly supported Ukraine throughout the last two and a half years of war, which could motivate Russia even more, Jamie Collier, Mandiant's lead threat intelligence analyst for Europe, Middle East and Asia, told Axios.

The big picture: The Olympics have become a prime target for Russian cyber operations.

  • Russian intelligence hackers broke into hundreds of computers tied to authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
  • The same group hacked the World Anti-Doping Agency, stole athletes' confidential medical data and leaked some of it shortly after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Yes, but: The French government has been pouring money into building out a vast cybersecurity team to defend against these intensifying threats.

  • Washington officials have advised their French counterparts on strategies to protect this year's Games, according to the New York Times.
  • And the Paris cybersecurity teams have also sought out advice from the team that responded to the cyberattack on the 2018 Winter Games, per the AP.
  • "We have now observed multiple Olympics," Collier said. "We've got a really good sense of how Russian cyber operators are conducting attacks and operations today."

The other side: The Russian Embassy in Paris has denied any involvement in the ongoing Olympic-themed disinformation campaigns.

The bottom line: Organizations that are working on Olympics-related projects should hold security trainings and take precautions to protect devices linked to employees who are heading to the Games, experts say.

  • Businesses should also take time well before the Games kick off to determine how at risk they are to the Olympics-specific cyber threats, Collier said.
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