As if the 2020 Olympics haven’t had enough hurdles to contend with, it looks like we can add cyberattacks to the list. Earlier today, UK officials put out a memo noting that hackers working with the GRU—Russia’s military intelligence agency—had carried out numerous cyberattacks against major sponsors, organizers, and other key players at this year’s Olympic Games, which were scheduled to take place in Tokyo over the summer before they were postponed.
While authorities across the pond didn’t go into detail about what these cyberattacks looked like, there’s a chance the actors involved could be related to the six GRU agents who were just indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for carrying out years of cyberattacks targeting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the 2017 French presidential election, and more.
As part of his statement on the recent string of Olympics hacks originating from Russian soil, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also explained exactly what went down in 2018 as part of his statement. At the time, the GRU deployed a strain of VPNFilter malware against the IT systems running the Winter Games meant to either wipe data from those computers and networks or disable them entirely. While administrators at the time were able to isolate the buggy devices and replace them in time to get the Olympics back on track with minimal disruption, it was still clear to the UK’s cyber authorities that this was a move on Russia’s part to completely “sabotage” the entire process of the Winter Olympics.
The DOJ’s own indictment goes into further detail, noting that hosts, participants, and attendees of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics—not to mention South Korean citizens, officials, and athletes—were attacked with “spearphishing campaigns and malicious mobile applications” meant to hoover sensitive data from their devices.
There’s a good chance that the current cyberattack—like the attack back in 2018—can be tied back to Russian athletes being excluded from the Olympics over longstanding doping violations. In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency formally banned Russia from competing in the Olympics for the next four years, also barring the country from hosting international events on its home turf. At the time, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev chocked the ban up to “chronic anti-Russian hysteria.”
But the latest round of indictments against the six GRU officers seems to be anything but.
“For more than two years we have worked tirelessly to expose these Russian GRU Officers who engaged in a global campaign of hacking, disruption, and destabilization,” U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady said in a statement, noting that these attacks, stretching back to 2015, tallied up to be “the most destructive and costly cyberattacks in history.”
“The crimes committed by Russian government officials were against real victims who suffered real harm,” he added.