We are now well underway with the enthusiasm and excitement associated with watching the 2018 Winter Olympics — including the parade of nations, fabulous performances, fireworks, and the intense competitions themselves. Just a few of the elite USA athletes include favorites Chloe Kim in snowboarding, figure skater Nathan Chen, Mikaela Shiffrin in alpine skiing, and gold medalist in snowboarding Red Gerard. However, everyone should be aware and cautious of online cybercriminals who target such high-profile celebratory events.
The 2018 Winter Olympics officially kicked off in PyeongChang, South Korea on Friday, February 9th with a spectacular opening ceremony. Despite certain diplomatic and political overtones, the official theme was one of peace. Events are available, in addition to traditional television, online through sites such as NBCOlympics.com, NBC Sports app, Snapchat, and Internet TV services like Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, DirectTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and many others.
Historically, cybercriminals have consistently targeted the Olympic games. It has been reported that there were millions of cyber attacks per day at the Beijing, London, and Brazil Olympics. In advance of the 2018 Winter Olympics, The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning to travelers to Pyeongchang that their mobile devices could be monitored or compromised. Another concern has been potential hacking of emails in the interest of releasing content that could be damaging to certain athletes. Additionally, according to Olympic officials, there was a cyber attack shortly before the February 9th opening ceremony. As a result, the PyeongChang 2018 website went down for 12 hours along with disruptions to the Wi-Fi in the Olympic stadium.
To provide insight as to potential scams during the Winter Olympics, the following are recommendations from The Center for Internet Security (CIS). The CIS is one of the most trusted resources to stay current on the latest cybercrime issues and preventative measures. The CIS is a global non-profit organization dedicated to developing, promoting, and sustaining best practices for cyber defense. The organization has published guidelines related to avoiding scams associated with the 2018 Winter Olympics:
- Cybercriminals will use your interest in the Olympics to try to trick you into visiting malicious websites, opening malicious spam, downloading malicious software, and falling for scams.
- Malicious Olympic Websites and Apps – It is common for cybercriminals to create convincing but fraudulent websites to distribute malware or gather information about you. There will likely be many suspicious and, possibly, malicious Olympic-themed mobile apps. These apps are designed to compromise smartphones and tablets.
- Protecting yourself by being careful what websites you visit and emails you open. Particularly with high-profile events, be sure to get your news from websites you already know and trust.
- Hover to Discover – When you receive an email with a link to a video or interesting story about an Olympic event, be sure to “Hover to Discover” before opening the email. This means that you should hover your mouse over the link to see where the link is really sending you. If it is not a link to a recognized website, then don’t click on it. Instead, the official Olympics website or another trusted online website should be used for videos or Olympic news.
- Get Olympic news directly from the source. This can be done by like/friend/follow the official Olympics accounts on social media platforms such as GooglePlus, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
- There is an official Olympic app for your mobile devices. The app contains real-time updates and news. It also provides images, videos, and the medal count. It is available in the Google Play Store and iOS App Store. There are many other Olympic apps, with some being malicious, so be sure to download the right one. The app can be checked by comparing the images on the official olympics.org website.
- Many of the scams involve websites that sound and look legitimate, as cybercriminals register domain names that sound similar to the event.
- Common are phishing email scams identifying the email recipient as the winner of a lottery for tickets to the Olympic games. To obtain the tickets, the recipient is asked to pay a fee and provide other details such as social security number or credit card number.
- Fake offers for Olympic merchandise via email or online advertisements are also typical. These offers can involve purchasing of counterfeit merchandise, theft of your credit card information, or theft of your identity. Suspicious offers should be ignored by purchasing merchandise only through a trusted and authorized retailer.
- It is best to make online Olympic purchases through an alternative or more secure payment system, such as Visa Checkout, Mastercard Securecode, or PayPay. If using a credit card, only one card should be used … and it should not be a debit card due to extra protections associated with a credit card. To ensure you are purchasing from a trusted vendor, look for the “https” in the URL as well as a lock icon in the browser bar. Without these encryption indicators, personal information should not be sent to these websites.
- Purchased should be made on a trusted and secure network rather than through public, unsecured Wi-Fi.
Additional cautionary actions include the following:
- When interacting with Olympics-related websites, be sure to have up-to-date antivirus software on laptops and smartphones.
- Only open attachments only when you are aware of what you are opening … and that they come from trusted sources.
- Since The International Olympic Committee is a non-profit organization, it does not email people with travel or merchandise offers. So, be cautious of fake emails indicating they are from the Olympic Committee.
In summary, the 2018 Winter Olympics events are available for all to enjoy many mediums including television and numerous online websites and apps. We all look forward to seeing Team USA step up to the podium many more times as the Games progress over the coming weeks. Also, many of us will be seeking a few souvenirs such as tee shirts, flags, jackets, hats, commemorative medals, and other merchandise. However, common sense must prevail when accessing Olympics-related websites and apps. With a cautionary approach, it is likely that being a victim of Olympics-focused fraudsters can be avoided.