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Friday, January 27, 2023

Football and cyber attacks

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Action-packed: A FIFA World Cup match being played in Doha, Qatar.
| Photo Credit: RYAN PIERSE

It is football time across the world. Fans are glued to their television screens as nations compete for the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

But with the popularity, also comes the pressure to protect the players’ and the clubs’ financial assets in a world where cyber crime can damage stakeholders. Two years ago, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre reported that sports organisations were under far more cyber attacks than other companies.

The criminals look to gain access to data information by hacking into the emails and the club’s digital system through use of ransomware. Hackers regularly target teams and private league organisers with phishing and ransomware. Top clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool have faced cyber attacks in the past.

According to Stas Protassov, co-founder, Acronis CyberFit Sports Partners ,a Switzerland-based company, football clubs have long been using data analytics to analyse and improve the performance of their players, gathering a lot of data. They keep training sessions and players’ data related to their performances in key positions, confidential. “Sports players often have a higher wealth and followers, their data could be used in order to steal funds or misuse their trusted persona for scam. Data lakes need to be protected against data leaks,” he says. Club owners engage security firms to prevent their financial assets from being hijacked, especially during the transfer window, where cybercriminals are said to hack into the emails and bank accounts of the club and the players. A cyber expert in Delhi says the threat may be rampant in Europe but cases in India are few and mainly related to lower-level crimes and bank frauds.

All India Football Federation (AIFF) secretary Shaji Prabhakaran says he has not heard of this issue from any Indian club; only the AIFF website was hacked once. “We have evaluated the gaps and are working on strengthening digital assets by using experts in hardware,” says Prabhakaran. The AIFF, for example, has sought support to secure digitisation of every aspect of the administration. “We have an expert who documents the communication, handles the website and also looks after the live streaming, which can cause immense harm if hacked. We follow the FIFA module,” he adds.

As fans enjoy the ongoing World Cup, officials behind the scene ensure all data concerning the players and their earnings are safe. There is much at stake as the game grows and reaches out to new destinations worldwide but the job of the cyber crime experts to keep football revenues safe becomes all the more tough.

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