The Olympics have always been a geopolitical microcosm: beyond the athletic match-ups, they provide a vehicle for diplomacy and propaganda, and even, occasionally, a proxy for war. It stands to reason, then, that in 2018 they've also become a nexus of hacker skullduggery. The Olympics unfolding next week in Pyeongchang may already be the most thoroughly hacked in the games' history—with potentially more surprises to come.
More so than any previous Olympics, the run-up to Pyeongchang has been plagued by apparent state-sponsored hackers: One Russia-linked campaign has stolen and leaked embarrassing documents from Olympic organizations, while security researchers have tracked another operation, possibly North Korean, that appears to be spying on South Korean Olympics-related organizations.
Security researchers tracking those two operations say the full scope of either remains far from clear, leaving the looming question of whether they could still present new disruptions timed to unfold during the games themselves. And more broadly, the intrusions signal that the geopolitical tensions that have long underscored the Olympics now extend into the digital realm as well.
"The Olympics have always been the most politicized sporting event of them all," says Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. "It's not a surprise at all that they've become a high-profile target for hacking."
The far stealthier of the two known Olympics hacking operations—and perhaps the most troubling—has quietly targeted South Korean Olympics-related organizations for well over a month. Researchers for security firm McAfee discovered just this week that the campaign, which they've named Operation GoldDragon, has attempted to plant three distinct spyware tools on target machines that would enable hackers to deeply scour the compromised computers' contents. McAfee identifies those malicious tools by the names GoldDragon, BravePrince, and GHOST419.