World Cup 2018: British intelligence briefs players, staff on Russian cyberthreats

The U.K. Football Association (FA) said it was taking cybersecurity seriously this summer – the Soccer World Cup tournament will be held in Russia from 15 June to 15 July — and will be taking advice from the National Cyber Center (NCSC) at the GCHQ (the British equivalent of the U.S. NSA). The England team will be briefed by GCHQ staff before flying out to the World Cup to help them stay safe from Russian hackers.

The U.K. Football Association (FA) said it was taking cybersecurity seriously this summer – the Soccer World Cup tournament will be held in Russia from 15June to 15 July — and will be taking advice from the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) at the GCHQ (the British equivalent of the U.S. NSA). Representative of the NCSC will be briefing players and coaches at St. George’s Park, the national soccer team’s training facility, before the squad flies to St. Petersburg on Tuesday, 12 June.

ITPro reports that the NCSC’s cybersecurity will instruct the players and coaches on how to keep their devices secure from hackers during the World Cup. The NCSC will also be advising the FA on keeping its own security systems as strong as possible given the likelihood of Russian cyberattacks.

Given the age of the players, experts say that will continue to play a major part in the England players’ lives in their camp in Repino, a small spa town near St. Petersburg, as players are likely to take multiple devices – smartphones, tablets, and gaming devices – with them to the camp.

Gareth Southgate, the team coach, recently joked that in their off time, most of the players will likely play video games. “In terms of how they occupy their time in the hotel, a lot of them are young , it will be ‘Fortnite’ or whatever it is,” Southgate said.

The FA said that with so many electronic devices going with the team, experts working for the FA will thoroughly screen all the electronic devices of each player and staff to make sure they have the appropriate security software installed. The players will also be briefed by cybersecurity experts on rules to follow in terms of which devices they can safely use and where. “We continue to receive security advice from all relevant authorities,” an FA spokesperson said.

The NCSC has already issued public advice to English soccer fans going to Russia, telling them to take as few devices as possible, never to download unofficial , and avoid public and hotel WiFi connections where possible.

The NCSC was established last in order to protect U.K. infrastructure, businesses, and government agencies from Russian government cyberattacks. The agency has been advising both organizations and individuals on security measures to be taken in the face of growing Russian cyberthreats.

“The NCSC is providing expert cyber security advice to the Football Association ahead of their departure to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup,” an NCSC spokesperson said. “A recent NCSC blog highlighted advice for fans using devices while abroad, which should be read alongside existing FCO Travel Advice and guidance offered on the NCSC website.”

ITPro notes that last month the NCSC, the U.S. DHS, and the FBI have issued a joint technical alert about “malicious cyber activity carried out by the Russian government.” NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin said that “Russia is our most capable hostile adversary in cyberspace so tackling them is a major priority for the National Cyber Security Centre and our U.S. allies.”

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