Cyberthreats to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics

DEC 3 2017


Kumar Ritesh

International sporting events like the Olympics attract rapt attention from viewers, sports enthusiasts, media, businesses and nations. Hosting a major event is a complex undertaking, but with the complexity comes tourism, job creation, a spotlight on the hosting nation/city, investments, and improvements in infrastructure and communications.

These events also attract cybercrime, including denial of service attacks, shady streaming sites, impersonation of official websites, hijacked payment systems and phishing attacks.

Hundreds of frauds were reported related to the Rio 2016 Olympics, resulting in losses of millions of dollars. These hacks primarily targeted users who were tricked with the false promise of lottery wins by impersonation websites selling fake Olympics tickets. Additional cyber activities during the Rio games included:

• Multiple distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks targeting Olympics organizers and Brazilian government websites, including 2016 Games (, the portal of the state government of Rio de Janeiro (, Brazil’s Ministry of Sports ( and Olympic Committee COB (, and the official website of the Rio 2016 Olympics (

• Hackers leaked personal details of the mayor and governor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s minister of sport, the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and three additional businessmen.

• Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps’ personal website was also affected by a DDoS attack.

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be a perfect convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems designed to deliver a smooth sporting event experience. Japan is committed to making this the “first truly digital and interconnected Olympics” by using emerging technologies like autonomous transportation, digital sporting equipment and systems, central connected facilities management, interconnected power supplies, robotics, VR/AR, digital ticketing and entertainment systems, access and surveillance systems, connected IoT and communication technology, “always on” healthcare and smart point of sales.

Although these technologies present limitless opportunities for a better sporting experience, they also create a new attack surface and gateways for penetration to the IT/OT systems through numerous vectors. If penetrated by hackers, centralized systems with control of critical functions can cause devastating damage to key operations, including massive power outages, shutdown of business operations, disruption of critical functions and services, and physical damage. They can wreak havoc that may even result in loss of life. Recognizing the imminent threats in Tokyo 2020, the Japanese government increased the number of major cybersecurity drills from six times a year in 2014 to 10 times a year in 2016. These drills test the level of coordination among public agencies and corporations in the event of a major cyberattack.

Aware of the risks surrounding industrial and supervisory control systems, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry established the Industrial Cyber Security Center of Excellence in April 2017. The Center seeks to develop (1) cybersecurity professionals (2) security and reliability of ICS/SCADA systems in Japan and (3) utilization of cyberthreat intelligence to bolster existing security controls.

The Ministry also launched the IoT Cyber Security Action Program in January 2017, which aims to accelerate the cultivation of a cybersecurity workforce, awareness and preparedness by creating various cyber exercises and establishing a training center.

These initiatives will be instrumental in fostering tight bonds between professionals from different sectors and will be critical in the event of a cyber incident, where various organizations will be required to coordinate a response.

For cybersecurity preparedness, the Japanese government should look at the following:

  • Overall cyberstrategy; policies encompassing IT/OT/IOT; and emerging technology attack surface assessments and treatment plans
  • Cyber risk assessment of emerging and legacy technologies
  • Threat profiling of all ingress/egress channels
  • Periodic simulation of cyber attacks, embedding lessons learned into security controls
  • Appropriate security controls with protection, monitoring and detection capabilities
  • Containerization of realized threats and active remediation
  • Threat segmentation based on risk profiles and application of appropriate security controls
  • Continuous red and blue teaming exercise to perform vulnerability assessments on interconnected systems
  • Effective cyber incident response plan

This will not only help Japan host a successful, secure and safe Olympics, but will positively impact the planning and execution of large events in the future.