Cybersecurity: the ultimate team sport

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games coming up, a topic that should be on the mind of organizers is cybersecurity. With more of the Games’ operations (and other major events) relying on technology and data, the sports world is more than ever tuned into how to best protect and secure the data being collected. From event operations to broadcasting and sharing of the experience through VR/AR to the athlete and their entourage, all aspects of a large sporting event produce immense amounts of sensitive data every minute. In this vein, this month’s article investigates new ways cyber threats have evolved in this event landscape.  

Connecting the physical to the digital

Connecting the physical to the digital

As the physical world becomes more connected to the digital, it is critical to maintain the security and privacy of the data and continue to build out additional security measures. Speaking to experts at Purdue University, where one the world’s foremost cybersecurity research and education centers (CERIAS) is located, we learned that one challenge comes from a transition in how data is stored and protected. For decades, it’s been more of an “IT mindset of security,” where firewalls were the first line of defense against network attacks and everything was stored at a physical location.

Now, with all the advances in server and security technology, there has been a shift to more of a “cloud mindset of security,” where data storage and computing power is readily available and provides a new architecture for managing and securing data. As organizations undergo this transition from IT to cloud, there are two dimensions of this switch that may threaten data security. The first is the storing of more data in the cloud, as the cloud’s access rights and other privileges are constantly under attack. The second is through doing more real-time broadcasting and sharing of the content, possibly with online fan participation. “With this shift, there is the real-time potential of things getting hijacked and disrupted and interrupted. So, both dimensions require innovative research like what is being carried out here at Purdue,” says Purdue University’s Executive Vice President and Dean of the College of Engineering, Mung Chiang

Staging the defense

For many sports, fans have responded to the incorporation of more technology and data into sporting events very positively. Not only that, but they have also asked for even more data and ways to engage and interact with their favorite sports, teams, and athletes. With this drive to make sports analytics more available, an interface has been created where the real-time physical world meets the digital world, where what we see and touch begin to interact with what we code. And as the cyber-physical interface continues to develop, it is evident that one of the key dimensions of this interface is cybersecurity.  But what could we do to prevent or remediate such attacks? Dean Chiang adds that he believes there is a “need to have policies in place that are agreed upon by the international community [dictating] the kind of norms that governments are expected to follow and [be held] accountable to when there are any suspicious activities that are not coming from one or two random hackers, but the ones coming in an organized way.”

Looking forward, researchers at CERIAS are focusing on developing innovative solutions in focus areas such as assured identity and privacy; end system security; human centric security; network security; policy, law, and management; and prevention, detection, and response. They recently announced a collaboration with Rolls-Royce and Carnegie Mellon to focus on developing cyber-resilient systems. They are looking to incorporate tools like artificial intelligence to help enhance the security of some of Rolls-Royce’s current and future systems, particularly ones that operate in a harsh environment. Additionally, CERIAS hosts a weekly seminar highlighting technical discovery, a case study, or exploring cyber operational approaches on topics such as cyber security, privacy, resiliency, or autonomy that are helpful if you are interested in learning more or in staying informed on the latest research and technology in this field.


This article was produced by Purdue University for Games Flash, an internal emailer of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As part of this collaboration, Purdue develops periodic content highlighting insights about the latest technologies sport globally. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the IOC.

For more information:

Interview with Mung Chiang

Mung Chiang, Executive Vice President of Purdue University for strategic initiatives, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, and the Roscoe H. George Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Mung Chiang

Mung Chiang is the Executive Vice President of Purdue University for strategic initiatives, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, and the Roscoe H. George Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Purdue Engineering in 2021 became the largest engineering school to ever ranked among top five in the U.S. During 2019-20, he served as the Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State and the chief global technology office in the Department of State to launch Technology Diplomacy. Prior to 2017, he was the Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering, the inaugural Chair of Princeton Entrepreneurship Council and Director of Keller Center for Engineering Education at Princeton University.