by Susannah Patton

Security at the 2006 Winter Olympics

Feb 01, 20063 mins
IT Strategy

Champions on the snow and ice aren’t the only ones who have been training intensely for the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, which begin Feb. 11. A team of 1,200 IT professionals has also been going through rigorous training exercises to make sure that viruses and hacker attacks won’t threaten systems that control everything from access to the games to the electronic scoreboards that monitor the events.

Security is a perennial issue at the Olympics. This year, the challenge “will be overseeing infrastructure at locations that are spread out” between the town of Torino and the mountains, says Kathy McNeill, managing director of IT for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

Luckily, Olympic IT professionals in Italy have had experience with the kind of security issues they will face in Torino. Atos Origin, an IT services company, has overseen IT for the Olympics since 2002. During the 16 days of competition in Athens, more than 5 million IT security alerts were recorded, although only 425 were considered serious and 20 critical. (Many of these serious alerts included accredited people such as athletes, Olympic staff and journalists trying to disconnect the Olympic Games intranet so they could connect personal laptops to the Internet.)

According to Yan Noblot, IT security manager for the Olympics at Atos Origin, the top IT risks at this year’s games include the potential for denial-of-service attacks and any kind of assault on the integrity of the data sent to the press and the public. “You can imagine if someone changed the results on the scoreboard; it would not be pretty,” he says.

One security measure that Atos Origin has put in place is an identity management system for athletes, journalists and Olympic staff. To guard the systems against intruders, the company has created hundreds of virtual LANs, so that internal systems are segmented from each other, thus making it harder for the bad guys to gain access and take systems down. In addition, a real-time security monitoring system will sound alarms if it detects network intruders.

Meanwhile, the winter games present unique logistical challenges. For one, says Claude Philipps, Atos Origin’s program director for the games, IT teams need to be prepared to reach the high mountain venues, as well as the athletes’ housing nearby, even if a storm dumps several feet of snow or fallen trees block high mountain roads.

“No matter what the conditions, we have to be there,” he says. “The athletes will be counting on us.”