Beware, Olympians

Amanda Maltin, Senior Writer

The 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing are underway, and athletes worldwide are arriving at the Olympic village in the next month to get ready to compete. In an interesting development, the FBI recommended that athletes bring a secondary phone to the games to protect their sensitive personal information on their mobile devices. This move is a clear indicator of the evolving barriers to protecting athletes from security breaches in the information age.

Security at the Olympics has always been a challenging undertaking. Attempts at terrorism are not unprecedented; there was the attack on the 1972 Munich Games, the 1996 Atlanta Games and two attacks during the 2008 Beijing Games. Host countries invest millions of dollars in police, physical barriers to entry and surveillance to prevent bad actors from causing harm to the athletes or the spectators during the games.

The issue of security has now been compounded in the digital age. Countries are not only confronted with physical security threats, but also must protect athletes and spectators from cybersecurity attacks, hacking and ransomware. 450 million attempts at cybersecurity attacks occurred during the Tokyo games, none of which were successful, fortunately. The upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing pose a unique challenge for participating countries, as China is a known aggressor in the realm of cyberterrorism. There is a documented history of China attempting to undermine international institutions through hacking and ransomware.

The United States is a known target of China’s cybersecurity attacks – particularly relating to elections and sensitive personal information in the hands of the government. In response to this, the FBI has advised American athletes to bring a secondary phone to the games so that the threat of their personal devices getting hacked is mitigated. Furthermore, the FBI has warned athletes that the health tracking app designed to help monitor COVID-19 symptoms amongst athletes poses a multitude of security threats. In an NPR article reporting on the FBI’s memo, it was explained that “such apps could be used by attackers to ‘steal personal information or install tracking tools, malicious code, or malware,’ the agency said.”

This isn’t the first controversy associated with the location of the games this year. The United States, along with other countries, announced that they were diplomatically boycotting the Olympics this year due to China’s poor human rights record. As international relations and security become more complicated, will the future of the Olympics look different?

Many international relations experts say yes. Kimberly Kim, an American professional golfer, recently said that “most of the Games held in the modern Olympic era have failed to live up to the Olympic values and ideals.” This is clear when evaluating the context the games are operating within – mistrust between the United States and China relating to cyber-hacking, boycotts of the host country and conflict between Russia and Ukraine, both of whom are competing in the games. The Olympics intend to promote peace, but it appears that the global conditions surrounding the competition are preventing the achievement of that goal.

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