Well everyone, it is officially the most wonderful time of the year. No, we aren’t talking about the sparkling, glimmering, holly jolly holidays that the aforementioned song is written about. We’re talking about football season.
After a long and hot summer, it’s about time. It would seem that we’ve got a record-breaking couple of months ahead of us (no matter whom you root for). However, the NFL has a new problem and it has nothing to do with the disturbing concussion and extramarital affair rates amongst its players: social media, cybersecurity risks and data breaches, of course.
As if professional football players in general weren’t already in the spotlight enough, the cybersecurity attacks and data breaches over the last few years have brought a certain level of infamy to many stars of the NFL – and, contrary to its fan base, the attackers would appear to be doing so indiscriminately of the team – and the league in general. Cybercriminals are causing trouble and we wanted to share the game plan that has been put in place to prevent them from doing so.
They can hack into your favorite NFL player’s social media profiles
It wouldn’t be an article about the NFL if it didn’t start with the drama that comes from social media and its (mis)uses. In 2016, the official NFL Twitter account “became the largest target in a series of data breaches across the social network.” The hackers responsible for the attack falsely tweeted about the death of commissioner Roger Goodell, who was very much alive at the time. Goodell quickly informed the public that he was, in fact, not dead, but the attack still showed people the damage that hacking could cause. Laremy Tunsil also fell victim to a social media cyber-attack and a damaged reputation after a controversial video was posted of him smoking marijuana. Before this, he was projected to be a first-round draft pick after college. He fell to No. 13 as a direct result of the, now infamous, attack.
The game plan: Players are now continually educated on the importance of digital literacy and safe online practices for social media and elsewhere. They are being taught by cybersecurity professionals some ways in which they can help themselves in their social media and internet activities.
Hackers can steal their identity and leak their private info, too
As the general public, we already know a lot (maybe even too much, depending on how big of a sports fan you are) about celebrity football players. With all of that personal information readily available, it isn’t hard for the wrong person with the right skillset to take advantage of that cybersecurity vulnerability. Dallas Cowboys’ Lucky Whitehead’s identity was stolen. This lead to his implication in a shoplifting scandal, in which the attacker had his exact full name, date of birth and social security number. His dog was also stolen (and thankfully, later returned unharmed) because of the identity theft.
They can steal their money
What we know as “blackmail” can be called “cyberextortion” in the world of cybersecurity. Essentially, this is when a hacker threatens to leak whatever information they have illegally obtained (read above) if a certain ransom is not paid by the athlete. As professional NFL players make exorbitant amounts of money, and salary and contract information are always available to football fans, these ransom requests can be quite high.
The game plan: After a series of high-profile online hacks, cyberextortions and attacks, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and the league as a whole are turning to cybersecurity firms to provide round-the-clock monitoring, threat hunting, penetration testing and data protection.
They can even hack stadiums
Yes, that’s right: hackers can infiltrate full stadiums. You’ve read about the dangers of public Wi-Fi, with the most significant being that they are often not password protected and have minimal safeguards put in place. Therefore, hackers can break into these networks through Man-in-the-Middle attacks to steal the data of everyone connected to that network. In other words, that bank transfer you might be trying to initiate so you can buy your friends a round of touchdown shots? That personal data can be intercepted if you’re connected to the stadium’s Wi-Fi.
The game plan: When in doubt, disable your Wi-Fi when you’re at the big game and use your data instead. If you have to connect to Wi-Fi, make sure that it is password protected and only use your browser as opposed to any apps you may have!
Along with concussions and various other forms of intense bodily harm, professional football players make themselves vulnerable if they aren’t careful. The National Football League and the players that grace our television screens this time of year make up a force to be reckoned with… if they can learn to protect themselves from cybersecurity risk and hacking threat.
Check out our blog next time you’re rooting for your favorite team next Sunday Funday, for more helpful guides, editorials and articles like this one.