When Russia was recently banned from the Olympics for another four years in a unanimous decision from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the instant reaction from Moscow was anger and dismissal. Now the rest of the world is waiting to see how Russia will retaliate this time.
In the history books, 2016 will forever be known for unprecedented Russian interference into an American presidential election, but until that transpired, one of the most aggressive cyber campaigns that year centered on the Olympics. In the run-up to the summer games in Brazil, WADA had uncovered a national Russian doping conspiracy and recommended a ban. In response, Moscow’s most notorious hackers targeted an array of international officials and then leaked both real and doctored documents in a propaganda push meant to undermine the recommendation. The International Olympic Committee rejected a blanket ban and allowed each sport to rule individually.
Next, the opening ceremony of the 2018 winter games in South Korea kicked off with all the traditional optimism, bright lights, and pageantry—plus a targeted cyberattack known as Olympic Destroyer that was designed to sabotage the networks and devices at the event. The attack’s origins were obfuscated, with breadcrumbs in the malware pointing to North Korea and China—but after investigators untangled the attempts to mislead them, it became apparent that some of the Russian government’s most experienced hackers were behind it. In a series of angry blog posts, the hackers charged that “on the pretext of defending clean sport,” what they described as “the Anglo-Saxon Illuminati” were fighting for “power and cash in the sports world.” It was clear that the Russians viewed the Olympics as one part of a larger world power competition, and looked to hacking as a weapon of choice. Almost nothing has been done to hold anyone responsible.
Indeed, as a new crop of books expertly explain, cyber capabilities are expanding and transforming the old game of statecraft. The Russians are playing right alongside the Americans, Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, and others in using hackers to shape history and try to bend geopolitics to their will.