Sun, Sep 18, 2016 - Page 12 News List

False clues make it tough to find WADA hackers


The Fancy Bears’ Web site displays a message on a computer screen in Moscow on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

Medical data from some of the world’s leading athletes have been posted to the Web and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says that Russians are to blame.

Even the hackers seem to agree, adopting the name “Fancy Bears” — a moniker long associated with the Kremlin’s electronic espionage operations.

As cybersecurity experts pore over the hackers’ digital trail, they are up against a familiar problem. The evidence has been packed with possible red herrings — including registry data pointing to France, Korean-language characters in the hackers’ code and a server based in California.

“Anybody can say they are anyone and it’s hard to disprove,” said Jeffrey Carr, chief executive officer of consulting firm Taia Global and something of a professional skeptic when it comes to claims of state-backed hacking.

Many others in the cybersecurity industry see the WADA hack as a straightforward act of Russian revenge, but solid evidence is hard to find.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach on Friday said that he will ask Russian authorities for help to stop the hackers.

Bach said the IOC would help WADA, “including communicating with the Russian authorities, to underline the seriousness of the issue and request all possible assistance to stop the hackers.”

“This is an unacceptable and outrageous breach of medical confidentiality that attempts to smear innocent athletes who have not committed any doping offense,” Bach said.

Later on Friday WADA announced that Fancy Bears had posted another selection of hacked data to the Web. This time, they targeted 11 athletes — three from Australia, one from Denmark, two from Germany, one from Spain and four from the UK — from the sports of boxing, cycling, rowing, shooting, swimming and tennis.


What is known is that it was only days after scores of Russian athletes were banned from the Olympic Games that suspicious looking e-mails began circulating. Purporting to come from WADA itself, the booby-trapped messages were aimed at harvesting passwords to a sensitive database of drug information about athletes worldwide. Among other things, the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System carries information about which top athletes use otherwise-banned substances for medical reasons — prize information for a spurned Olympic competitor seeking to embarrass their rivals.

On Sept. 1 someone registered a Web site titled “Fancy Bears’ Hack Team.” A few days later, a Twitter account materialized carrying a similar name. Just after midnight Moscow time on Tuesday, the Fancy Bears Twitter account came alive, broadcasting the drugs being taken by gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and other US Olympians.

It followed up on Thursday with similar information about the medication used by British cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, among many others.

There is no suggestion any of the athletes broke any rules, but Russians seized on the leak as evidence that US and British players were using forbidden drugs with the blessing of anti-doping officials.

“Hypocrisy” Russia’s embassy to London tweeted in reaction to the news.

Kremlin channel RT broadcast a cartoon showing a WADA official picking up a bulky US player’s steroid bottle with a smile.

“All good! You’re cleared to compete!” he says.

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