Major international sporting events have always captured the imagination of the masses the world over, not least because they are powerful symbol of peaceful contest between nations.
For events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and Super Bowl, global audiences literally in their billions tune-in to watch their favourite athletes strive for victory against their opponents.
Just a few years ago major broadcasters still ruled the the big event airwaves, but today you’re more likely to watch events live on your mobile or internet connected digital TV.
In April 2018 the world’s gaze, and vast amounts of online traffic, will fall on Australia as the Commonwealth Games, hosted by the Gold Coast capture millions of hearts and minds.
Millions will be inspired by human endeavour. Malicious protagonists will be watching too, especially in the online realm. For organisers and participants, the digital stakes have never been higher.
Big game hunting
In an era when cyber attacks are bread and butter operations for criminals, state sponsored units and activist hackers alike, it’s not a case of ‘if’ but ‘how’ and ‘when’ large events will be hit. The question is whether they can power through and keep going.
The bigger the event is, the wider its appeal to malicious actors who thrive on high-profile disruptions. That means substantial resources, online as well as physical, don’t just need to be available, they need to scale instantly when a major event literally takes over a city, especially when it comes to risk and incident management.
Attacks: the tale of the tape
Intelligence and analytics collected by content delivery network and cyber resilience expert Akamai — which has been involved with media and site delivery surrounding the Olympics since 2004 — reveals that cyber has well and truly entered the central arena for sporting events.
- London’s 2012 Olympics was hammered by substantial cyber attacks both immediately prior to the opening ceremony and on the first day.
- Just two years later, the Sochi Winter Olympics became an attack focus as geopolitical events unfolded, again culminating with attacks spiking during the most keenly watched events.
- Brazil, where sport, passion and controversy are rarely separated, featured next with planned and opportunistic assaultsduring the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016 ranging in motivation from patriotism, to protests to phishing.
To compound the risk profile further, the sophistication and power of each successive series of assaults on major events has grown substantially on each occasion, making cyber resilience a first tier issue for hosts and organisers alike.
In less than a year it will be Australia’s turn.
Cyber Games: the main event
It’s not just about sports either. This was demonstrated by Brisbane’s hosting of the G20 in 2014 — 4000 delegates and 2500 media — and the CBD lockdown that was the APEC summit in Sydney a decade ago.
The scale of major events today means they have evolved into giant temporary eco-systems that involve networks of government agencies, sponsors, broadcasters and transaction providers and merchants — as well as technology vendors and stakeholders.
Prime time for risk
Adding to this ‘prime time’ risk profile is an ever increasingly complexity around running large scale events, which extend well beyond sports and into the likes elections, tax time, Census and cultural festivals.
Today, we take the sophisticated media coverage of major events largely for granted, especially when it’s at near saturation levels. But behind the scenes seasoned content delivery and security experts including Akamai are working overtime to fend-off and mitigate attacks as eventuate.
In the internet age it’s vital all stakeholders in major events appreciate new risks, how these change what’s at stake and understand how to develop an effective defensive strategy.
What you need to watch…
Broadcast rights and sponsorships have always been the big ticket items in large sports events marketing, especially given the huge reach and undivided attention they create.
But as the way we view and consume content is changing, so is how major events get delivered electronically, especially as eyes move to internet-powered, on-demand screens that offer a whole new world of interactivity – and a whole new world of risk.
This means the analogue rulebook has been thrown out the window and the rules for the ‘cyber games’ are rewritten almost daily, especially as mobile devices start to outnumber traditional computers.
The distribution of sports content is in flux, with events managers now required to manage issues ranging from unauthorised online rebroadcasting (over the top), wagering, automated ticket scalping and faked merchandise.
Where you need to watch it
But at the top of the risk tree is the cyber threat, because the moment an attack is effective, for most people it may as well not be happening at all. And with events organisers as well as fans dependent on the internet, the threat has never been as potent.
As the as geopolitical friction and temperature increases, so too do the cyber risks, especially when attacks have increasingly become a proxy for unofficial sanctions and interference yet are routinely denied.
The very location of an event acts as a giant destination marketing platform for the world to see, with the spotlight shining more kindly on some than others.
That’s especially pertinent when major sports events are a prominent stage for international relations, diplomacy and displays of national pride and politics.
The ability to withstand cyber incidents as they occur is now a primary consideration for events organisers, a space where industrial-grade infrastructure players like Akamai have a demonstrated track record.
Join The Mandarin’s publisher Tom Burton in Brisbane on July 19 for an exclusive executive update on cyber threats and resilience challenges facing government including a Q&A with Queensland CIO, Andrew Mills and the new CEO for the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network, Craig Davies. The event is for Queensland public sector officials. Full details can be found here. To attend please RSVP here.