IT Olympics: Cyberattacks to test cybersecurity of London Olympic Games

The London 2012 Olympic Games open in nine months, but geeks and security freaks are preparing to go for the gold now in simulated cyberattacks against the technology systems running the Olympics. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there were reportedly 12 million cyberattacks per day, so it's a mighty big claim for officials to say the London 2012 Olympics will be "safe from cyberattacks" and from cybercriminals disrupting the games. Gerry Pennell, the CIO over cybersecurity for the London Olympics, confidently told the Wall Street Journal that "even if police shut down the mobile network in response to a major attack, the games would still be able to carry on."


The Olympics' Technology Operation Center (TOC), the hub to monitor security, power, telecommunications and results data, opened to the media yesterday. It's been open to hackers security-testing the Olympic network for some time. "We simulate past competitions and we have a shadow team of about 100 people coming and creating problems - injecting viruses, disconnecting PC servers," Patrick Adiba from Atos, the company managing the games' IT systems, told the BBC. "We are using a simulation system so it doesn't really matter if we corrupt the data. We simulate the effect and see how people react."

More than 8.5 billion sports fans are expected to be monitoring the games via the internet which will require handling about 30% more data than the Beijing Olympics. TechWatch reported the TOC has been tested for outages, how it will cope under a massive DDoS attack or malware outbreak, as well as protecting mission critical systems from anything "web-facing." In March and May, right before the London Olympics, worst-case cyberattack scenarios will be played out.

ComputerWeekly reported that 5,000 IT folks will be hired to fill all of the IT-related jobs during the Games. "Not only will they have helped to build and manage the servers, PCs, networks, and applications required to run the Olympics - but they will have to decommission most of them and switch them all off afterwards. It's a huge, challenging and unique task." The tech staff will "deepen London's pool of IT talent."

The sheer scale of massive tech to power the Olympics could boggle the brain. TechCrunch reported:

The 16 days of the Olympics games and 12 days of the Paralympics will see 450 technologists keep 180 servers and 1160 PCs and laptops running 24/7. There are 92 buildings to be connected and BT is investing 640,000 man hours in the project. A volunteer portal created by Atos Origin will manage volunteer staff of up to 70,000 during the games. A radio trunked network from British company Airwave will will be used by stewards and the emergency services, and will act as a backup mobile network if anything goes wrong.

Pennell talks more about the tech and the cyber security behind the TOC and London Olympics in the video below.

Meanwhile the Olympic Committee said it was "unaware of any specific attack," but TechWatch reported committee concerns "that the rise in cyberattacks on governments could prompt a 'blended' terrorist attack in which physical and online attacks are carried out at the same time."

The Olympics spur all kinds of problems as well as innovative solutions. The International Business Times reported that "Have a beer before heading home" was officially suggested by the Transportation Commissioner as a way to avoid long queues that will be caused by the "extra 5.3 million Olympic fans who will be certain to use the Underground as the main form of transport around London."

Since the explosion of social media and mobile devices, London 2012 is being billed as the "first truly digital games." In 2008, China threatened to "punish" any website that replayed the Beijing "Olympic Games and related events without the authorization of state-run China Central Television." Some cybersecurity experts said that was a nice way for China to announce plans to cyberattack any site infringing Olympic content. While there have been no threats to hack sites for infringing 2012 Olympic content, or reports of other digital kung-fu to win medals, the Financial Times reported on "digital ambush marketing threats." At any one time, there are between 50 - 100 cases being investigated of "ambushers or companies trying to associate themselves with the event without paying for the rights to do so." 

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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