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Hackers Leak Olympic Committee Emails in Response to Russia Ban

A group of hackers linked to Russia has leaked several emails apparently exchanged between officials of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other individuals involved with the Olympics. The leak comes in response to Russia being banned from the upcoming Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

The group, calling itself Fancy Bears and claiming to be a team of hacktivists that “stand for fair play and clean sport,” previously released confidential athlete medical records stolen from the systems of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and also targeted the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). One of their most recent leaks included emails and medical records related to football (soccer) players who used illegal substances.

The first leaks from Fancy Bears came shortly after Russian athletes were banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics following reports that Russia had been operating a state-sponsored doping program.

While Fancy Bears claim to be hacktivists, researchers have found ties between the group and Fancy Bear, a sophisticated Russian cyber espionage team also known as APT28, Pawn Storm, Sednit, Sofacy, Tsar Team and Strontium.

The latest leak includes emails apparently exchanged between IOC officials and other individuals involved with the Olympics. Some of the messages discuss the recent decision to ban Russia from the upcoming Winter Games based on the findings of the IOC Disciplinary Commission.

“These emails and documents point to the fact that the Europeans and the Anglo-Saxons are fighting for power and cash in the sports world. WADA headquartered in Montreal, Canada supported by the United States Olympic Committee declared the crusade against the IOC on the pretext of defending clean sport,” the hackers said. “However, the genuine intentions of the coalition headed by the Anglo-Saxons are much less noble than a war against doping. It is apparent that the Americans and the Canadians are eager to remove the Europeans from the leadership in the Olympic movement and to achieve political dominance of the English-speaking nations.”

While the hackers claim the emails they leaked prove the accusations, a majority of the messages don’t appear to contain anything critical. Furthermore, Olympics-related organizations whose systems were previously breached by the hackers claimed at the time that some of the leaked files had been doctored.

WADA representatives told Wired that Fancy Bears are looking to “undermine the work of WADA and others,” and claimed that everything they leaked this week is “dated.” WADA officially accused Russia of being behind previous attacks. 

It’s unclear how the emails have been obtained by the hackers, but the group has been known to launch phishing attacks involving fake WADA domains. It’s possible that they tricked some of the individuals whose emails have been compromised into handing over their credentials on a phishing site.

Russia has been accused by several experts of disguising some of its cyber campaigns as hacktivism. For instance, a hacker using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 has taken credit for an attack on the U.S. Democratic Party, which may have influenced last year’s presidential election.

Many believe the Fancy Bears attacks are Russia’s response to its athletes being banned. Perhaps unsurprisingly, articles from two major pro-Russia English-language news organizations suggest that the latest leak from Fancy Bears shows that Russia’s exclusion from the Olympics was politically motivated.

Security firm McAfee reported last week that several organizations associated with the Olympics had received emails set up to deliver information-stealing malware, but it’s unclear who is behind the attacks.

Related: Hackers Already Targeting Pyeongchang Olympics

Related: Russian Cyberspies Accused of Attack on Olympics Anti-Doping Agency

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Eduard Kovacs is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.