England’s footballers have been briefed by the UK’s signals spy agency GCHQ on how to protect themselves during the World Cup – including how to hide things in their hotel room – while visiting big, bad Russia.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) details of the briefing had a particular emphasis on cyber security, with spy bosses considering giving the England team temporary ‘burner phones’ to use during the trip.
Instead of this, special software has been installed on the footballers’ phones and other digital devices, which will be removed upon their return to Britain. Players were also warned not to use online banking or engage in other online activities that could embarrass them – so no swiping right, fellas.
The advice on cyber security for the squad was provided by the GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Center (NCSC). The NCSC hosted a seminar at the Football Association headquarters before players left for Russia.
The NCSC’s advice also extends to English football fans, who have been told to avoid public and hotel Wi-Fi, and to use as few electronic devices as possible. The NCSC has recommended that supporters read travel advice from the Foreign Office and all guidance on the ‘Be on the Ball: 2018 FIFA World Cup’ website. Ciaran Martin of the NCSC said: “Russia is our most capable hostile adversary in cyberspace, so tackling them is a major priority for the NCSC.”
MPs and security officials have repeatedly pushed the narrative that Britain is at risk of cyberattacks from Russia, both on home soil and overseas. Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said Russia could kill “thousands and thousands” in targeted attacks on Britain’s undersea communication cables. MPs have also accused Russia of meddling in the Brexit referendum and previous elections using social media, a claim denied by both the Kremlin and social media companies.
Despite this, Head of MI5 Andrew Parker said that Europe faces sustained hostile activity from states like Russia, which he called the “chief protagonist.” He said: “The Russian state’s now well-practiced doctrine of blending media manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion with new and old forms of espionage, high levels of cyberattacks, military force and criminal thuggery is what is meant these days by the label ‘hybrid threats.’”
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