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FBI advises athletes to leave their personal phones at home for the Beijing Olympics

Members of Team Switzerland arrive at the Olympic Village ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 1, 2022.
Anthony Wallace - Pool
/
Getty Images
Members of Team Switzerland arrive at the Olympic Village ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 1, 2022.

Athletes on their way to the 2022 Winter Olympics have a new item to add to their packing list: a burner phone.

In a warning issued Monday, the FBI advised athletes traveling to Beijing this month, as well as those competing in the Paralympics in March, to bring a temporary cellphone with them in lieu of their regular device in preparation for the risk of cyberattacks. Such attacks could include ransomware and malware, data theft, and distributed denial of service attacks, among others, according to the bureau.

The magnitude and popularity of the Olympic Games make the event an expected target for those with malicious intent. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were the targets of more than 450 million cyberattacks that were ultimately unsuccessful, according to the FBI.

However, the agency's missive was not precipitated by any specific threats.

"The FBI to date is not aware of any specific cyber threat against the Olympics, but encourages partners to remain vigilant and maintain best practices in their network and digital environments," the agency said.

The FBI also flagged risks from an app each athlete is required to use to track their health

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, athletes at this year's games are required to download the My 2022 app to track their health while in Beijing or to utilize on a web browser, according to the FBI. In the International Olympic Committee's guidebook for Olympics participants, the organization states that all athletes traveling to Beijing from outside of the country are required to download and use the app's "Health Monitoring System" for 14 days prior to departure for China and during the duration of their stay.

However, the FBI warns that the app could pose a potential security risk to attendees, as could other commonly used programs like digital wallets. Such apps could be used by attackers to "steal personal information or install tracking tools, malicious code, or malware," the agency said.

The FBI's warning echoes the findings of a report issued last month by researchers at The Citizen Lab, a group based at the University of Toronto. Their analysis found that the My 2022 app had the potential to be infiltrated by hackers, in addition to raising censorship concerns. Users are also required to provide sensitive information on the app, but where such information will end up and who will be able to view it is hazy, according to the report.

The IOC was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment about the FBI warning or the Citizen Lab report, but in a statement to the IT website ZD Net, a spokesperson for the IOC said the organization had conducted independent third-party assessments on the My 2022 app. "These reports confirmed that there are no critical vulnerabilities," the IOC said.

Monday's release was issued on the same day that FBI Director Christopher Wray criticized the Chinese government for alleged repeated cyberattacks intended to steal information and technology from U.S. companies.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sharon Pruitt-Young
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