The UK government has claimed that Russia was planning to disrupt the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with cyberattacks before the Games were postponed. Targets allegedly included organizers, logistics services and sponsors.
“The UK has today exposed malicious cyber activity from Russia’s GRU military intelligence service against organizations involved in the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games before they were postponed,” a press release issued by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre explained. “The activity involved cyber reconnaissance by the GRU targeting officials and organizations involved in the Games, which had been due to take place in Tokyo during the summer.”
The proposed attacks bear more than a passing resemblance to the disruption that impacted the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in South Korea. Back then, Russian hackers used the OlympicDestroyer malware to cause the Games’ web servers to malfunction.
It is believed that Russian hackers have been instructed to target Olympic events in retaliation for athletes being banned from competing under the Russian flag due to a state-sponsored doping program. Both the 2018 Olympic cyberattacks and the ones that were due to be unleashed for the 2020 Games have been traced to a hacking collective known as Sandworm.
Just as the UK has come out with a strong rebuke of Russia’s actions, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed formal charges against six members of the Sandworm group. Interestingly, the accusations made by the DoJ go beyond disrupting the Olympic Games in 2018 and talk of malicious activities aimed at supporting “broader Russian government efforts.”
The charged Sandworm hackers also stand accused of sabotaging Ukraine’s power grids, interfering in France’s 2017 elections, defacing Georgian websites and organizing cyberattacks to disrupt the investigations into the Novichok poisonings that took place in the UK in 2018.