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State-run cyber attack threatened London 2012 Olympics

20 Nov 2013

A state-run cyber attack threatened the London 2012 Olympic Games, and was one of six "serious incidents" that took place during the event, according to the former CIO of the London Olympics.

Speaking at the Datacenter Dynamics Converged conference, Gerry Pennell, who is now the IT director at the University of Manchester, detailed some of the issues his team had to deal with during the games, only one of which had an impact to the running of their network.

Pennell described "something which looked suspiciously like a state attack" that occurred six days into the games. "We'd been advised in advance that something like this might happen, so we made some configuration changes to field that, but other agencies were affected."

Pennell did not give details on which country the state-run attack came from.

Elsewhere, an automated botnet attack from 90 IP addresses across Europe and North America caused concerns, but ultimately did not affect the running of the London 2012 systems, Pennell said.

However, a "much more serious" threat, which involved a 300,000 packet per second denial of service (DoS) attack, brought down internet access for the Olympic press agencies. "We had to failover and lost approximately two seconds of service," Pennell said.

He also explained how hacktivist groups grew on publicly available social media sites such as Twitter. "The fascinating thing was watching how these informal groups operate," he said. "We watched them on social media and we knew they were coming. It didn't cause us any impact, but we were live and watching that very closely."

Despite media speculation putting overall cyber attack attempt figures in the millions, nobody knows how many attacks occurred, according to Pennell. "It's all rubbish, it's nonsense," he said, clarifying that the majority of the attacks were fielded at the edge of their networks and never made even the slightest dent in their operations.

Earlier this year, BT revealed that over 200 million attacks had been carried out on the London 2012 website alone, while a cyber attack on the electricity grid moments before the opening ceremony was also stopped.

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Michael Passingham

Michael Passingham joined V3 as a reporter in June 2013. Prior to working at V3, Michael spent time at computing magazine PC Pro. Michael covers IT skills, social media, tech startups and also produces V3's video content.

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