FBI tells U.S. athletes to use burner phones at the China Olympics, due to threat of cyber intrusion

The Canadian government issued a similar warning to its Olympic team.

Updated: February 2, 2022 - 10:27am

The FBI is telling U.S. Olympic athletes competing this month in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing to leave their personal cell phones at home and instead use so-called burner phones.

According to a memo sent by the bureau, "The FBI urges all athletes to keep their personal cell phones at home and use a temporary phone while at the Games. While there were no major cyber disruptions, the most popular attack methods used were malware, email spoofing, phishing and the use of fake websites and streaming services designed to look like official Olympic service providers."

"These activities include distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, ransomware, malware, social engineering, data theft or leaks, phishing campaigns, disinformation campaigns, or insider threats, and when successful, can block or disrupt the live broadcast of the event, steal or leak sensitive data, or impact public or private digital infrastructure supporting the Olympics," the warning continued.

More than 450 million attempted cyber-related incidents occurred at the recent Olympic games held in Tokyo, said the FBI. Though, the agency added, "none were successful due to cybersecurity measures in place."

One specific note given by the bureau is that the required use of digital wallets to hold things like mobile COVID-19 vaccine cards could increase the opportunity for cyber actors to steal personal information and install malware on athletes' devices.

"The download and use of applications, including those required to participate or stay in country, could increase the opportunity for cyber actors to steal personal information or install tracking tools, malicious code, or malware," reads the memo.

The U.S. warning was backed up by a similar note of caution the Canadian government sent to its athletes instructing them to leave their devices at home. Athletes have been told, among other things, to ensure that while at the games they are only ever connected to official wifi, and to turn off transmitting functions when their devices are not in use. 

 

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