On January 31, 2022, the FBI issued a Private Industry Notification entitled “Potential for Malicious Cyber Activities to Disrupt the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics,” warning those associated with the Olympics and Paralympics being held in Beijing that “cyber actors could use a broad range of cyber activities to disrupt these events.”
The activities that could be used include “distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, ransomware, malware, social engineering, data theft or leaks, phishing campaigns, disinformation campaigns, or insider threats, and when successful, can block or disrupt the live broadcast of the event, steal or leak sensitive data, or impact public or private digital infrastructure supporting the Olympics.”
Significantly, the Notification warns athletes, participants, and attendees specifically about downloading and using mobile applications in China, including “those required to participate or stay in country.” These apps could provide an opportunity for threat actors to install tracking tools, malicious code, or malware, which has been experienced in China before and is a well-known tactic of the Chinese government.
Simply put: the “FBI urges all athletes to keep their personal cell phones at home and use a temporary phone while at the Games.”
This warning is consistent with FBI Director Christopher Wray’s recent public pronouncement that the Chinese government is “more brazen and damaging” than ever before in its attempt to steal U.S. companies’ intellectual property and information. He stated, “When we tally up what we see in our investigations, over 2,000 of which are focused on the Chinese government trying to steal our information or technology, there’s just no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, innovation, and economic security than China.”
This is not the first time Wray has pointed a finger at China. Earlier this year, he provided a detailed summary of the threat posed by the Chinese government, which he said was “more detail on the Chinese threat than the FBI has ever presented in an open forum.” He went on to say, “If you think these issues are just an intelligence issue, or a government problem, or a nuisance largely just for big corporations who can take care of themselves—you could not be more wrong. It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”
If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will. This is a threat that all of us should be paying close attention to.