While large companies, political representatives and individuals remain the main targets of hackers, international sporting events stay in their line of sights. It is evident by the cyber-attacks observed during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea when Olympic Destroyer malware infiltrated computer systems shortly before the opening ceremony, not to mention the piracy attempt during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

That is why the Japanese authorities are currently on the alert about a year before the Games of the XXXIIᵉ Modern Olympiad, held in Tokyo from Friday 24 July to Sunday 9 August 2020. Author of a post published in the columns of The Cipher Brief, analyst Nathan Ryan warns of the risks of attacks that could affect the Land of the Rising Sun during this particular period.

Testing vulnerabilities to better protect the nation

Mr. Ryan believes that the weapons of foreign services are sophisticated enough to defeat the defence systems of a country such as Japan. The latter also drew up a highly controversial defence plan at the end of January 2019, which consists of hacking 200 million connected devices belonging to its citizens. An experimental project that would aim here to test the nation’s computer vulnerability, as many fears that hackers would abuse IoT devices come from the government.

In the meantime, the island country will have the opportunity to test its cyber-defences during the Rugby World Cup  2019. This ninth edition will be a life-size test that should not be taken lightly before the next major sporting event.

Too much technological dependence?

Japan will indeed focus on advanced technologies, both for security and media coverage. Objective: to spread its technological know-how throughout the world. “Japan intends to make the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games the most innovative and technologically advanced sporting event of all time,” Japan Today said in an article published last year.

But this dependence on technology has a logical weakness: cybersecurity. Too vulnerable infrastructures would lead to an IT disaster in the event of successful attacks. Heavy financial losses, disruption of events, massive theft of personal data (spectators and top athletes), the image of the degraded country: all these are dramatic consequences to be considered.

For Nathan Ryan, pirate groups would focus on specific targets, such as transport and broadcasting networks, or electrical and broadcasting systems. Most importantly, the most likely perpetrators of this type of operation, in addition to hacktivists and cyberterrorists, would be foreign intelligence services, according to the analyst.

In 2018, attention turned to Russia following the deployment of the Olympic Destroyer, due to the ban on participation issued against Russian sportsmen and women due to doping. Japan, on the other hand, has maintained stormy relations with China for several decades, following geopolitical conflicts over the allocation of islands in the Pacific.