Cybercrooks and hackers prowling Vancouver Games; experts say to be on guard

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WHISTLER, B.C. - Cybercrooks and hackers have used interest in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as bait to cause havoc and in some cases rip off unsuspecting web surfers, says a U.S. security expert.
The warning comes days after an infected web video of the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili made the rounds on the Internet.
A number of websites are now promoting "virus-free" downloads of the Feb. 12 crash that claimed the 21-year-old's life at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
But Don Gray, of U.S.-based Solutionary, said the Games have become a playground for hackers, primarily because of the overwhelming use of social media.
"It shows the impact social networking is having on our lives," Gray said in an interview from his office in Omaha, Neb.
"On a fairly regular regular basis, we're seeing Twitter accounts being hijacked and Twitter accounts being used to send malicious software."
Just recently a bogus Twitter account known as "gamesvancouver" offered obscured links to Olympic highlights over the social networking service. Surfers were directed to what a number of online security experts described as "a highly accurate counterfeit" of the official Games site that subsequently tried to infect machines with a Trojan virus.
Once accounts are hijacked, a user's personal information can be stolen.
VANOC organizers use Twitter as a tip service for the thousands of journalists covering the Games. Companies such as Solutionary say they've noticed an overall spike in the number of new accounts on the networking site.
People, especially in eastern North America, are anxious for results and don't want to wait for broadcasters and other traditional media feeds, said Gray, whose company counsels corporations on the dangers of the online world.
Twitter and other social media sites are as safe as they can be, given their "maturity," said Gray. The problem is with the sophistication of the user.
"There are people that are new to the platform, don't understand what it can be used for, don't understand the risks," he said.
"They can be compromised. You've got to be on guard."
Traditional websites are also at risk.
Last week, Internet security firm McAfee identified the top 10 Winter Olympic athletes whose names and statistics are searched most often and subsequently face the most significant risk of cyberattack.
Literally hundreds of millions of fans around the world will search for an athlete and stumble into an unauthorized or unfamiliar website where viruses and spyware can attack their computer.
Gray said this is where traditional media with an established online presence have a chance to really shine and promote themselves as a safe destination.
One threat that has yet to surface at the Games is hackitivism, where hackers in one country upset about losing gang up to attack websites and servers in rival countries.
"Maybe it has something to do with the Games being hosted in Canada," Gray joked. "You guys are friendly and peace-loving."
The best defence for people attending the Olympics and those keeping tabs at home is to always be on guard, he added.
Olympic organizers and broadcasters also have a vast technological infrastructure that requires guarding.
VANOC computers manage logistics throughout the Vancouver and Whistler sites, help control access to venues and keep tabs on the scoring. Critical functions such as accreditation for athletes, officials, volunteers and media are done electronically.
They're also responsible for distribution of results and feeds to TV networks.
The Integrated Security Unit, which is led by the RCMP, won't say whether the Games' critical computer networks have been hit.
"We have policies and mechanisms in place to monitor and evaluate potential risks and to respond effectively, should an incident occur," said RCMP Cpl. Albert Yang.
Information technology (IT) specialists are part of the team, he added.

Organizations: Whistler Sliding Centre, McAfee, RCMP

Geographic location: WHISTLER, Vancouver, U.S. Omaha, Neb. North America Canada

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