Pro Sports Grapple with Convergence of Cyber and Physical Security Challenges

Professional sports face unique cyber threats and challenges, particularly as cyber ties to physical security. These distinctive challenges have led to close collaboration between the leading organizations in this sector.

That’s according to the CISOs of three of the biggest sports in the US: Steve Grossman of the National Basketball Association, Tomás Maldonado of the National Football League and Dave Munroe of the National Hockey League.

One of the biggest challenges is the high levels of “cyber-physical convergence” in professional sports. Cyberattacks at major sporting events could “affect the health and safety of fans,” Maldonado noted.

He gave the hypothetical example of changing signs in a stadium parking lot to point fans in the wrong direction, potentially into physical danger. “Not many CISOs have to worry about that,” Maldonado commented.

All the technology used in stadiums is network-based, from game production to lighting and temperature. “The threats you have to manage are endless,” Munroe said. These different technologies are also handled by multiple people, which adds to the difficulties.

Grossman added that high-profile sports like the NBA must manage a large footprint, spanning multiple stadiums, teams and geographic locations. As a result, “there’s a lot of coordination and collaboration required to make sure everything is aligned,” he said.

For certain games, such as the playoffs, the location and teams involved aren’t known until close to the event, making cybersecurity even more difficult, Grossman said.

Importance of collaboration

All three CISO panelists acknowledged that different professional sports face similar challenges and commonalities in terms of offense. They have developed a tight network of sharing information with each other: around the attack trends they are observing and the effective mitigation strategies they are using.

The panel was moderated by FBI Deputy Section Chief Joseph Szczerba and emphasized the importance of the relationships developed by sports leagues and government agencies, such as the FBI and CISA.

Because of the physical security aspect of sports cybersecurity and the national geographic region that needs to be covered, these relationships are critical to understanding and mitigating new threats quickly.

Munroe emphasized the value of having direct connections with the FBI and CISA, which allow him to quickly reach out to those organizations when necessary. “It’s one of the best things you can do,” he added.

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