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Cyber-terrorists? Pah! Superhero protesters were a bigger threat to London Olympics

Seb Coe: Taxi drivers blocked from 2012-only lanes were also a bit testy

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RSA Europe 2013 Protests from groups such as Fathers4Justice were more of a worry to London 2012 Olympic Games organisers than computer hackers, according to the former chairman of London 2012, Lord Sebastian Coe.

He said procedures put in place before the Games to guard its IT systems – including Wi-Fi networks in stadiums as well as the main Olympics website – had worked well.

In practice, risks from pressure groups and local political campaigners proved the biggest headache but precautions against all types of threat had to be prepared, he noted.

"You have to deliver the Games within an environment of security," Coe said in response to questions about anti-aircraft missiles on tower blocks in East London and armed police on the street. "Protection has to be proportionate but I think we got the balance right.

"The threats of disruption came from everything from Fathers4Justice through to taxi drivers, angry they weren't allowed into the Olympic lanes. That tended to be the level of the threat. Most of the challenges weren't terrorists, cyber or otherwise," said Coe, who was speaking at the RSA Conference Europe 2013 which took place in Amsterdam this week.

Fathers4Justice are a fathers' rights campaign group whose signature form of protest involves scaling buildings while dressed as comic book superheroes.

Earlier at the conference, BT security chief executive officer Mark Hughes said that no cyber attack had occurred during the Games, repeating previous statements by the telco giant. BT dealt with over 212 million cyber attacks on the official website during last year's Olympic and Para-Olympic Games.

The only serious IT threat of any note came from concerns that power to the Olympic Stadium might be disrupted.

A recent documentary from BBC Radio 4 revealed that London Olympics officials were warned hours before the opening ceremony that the event might come under cyber-attack. Olympic cyber-security head Oliver Hoare was woken by a phone call from GCHQ at 04.15 on the day of the opening ceremony by GCHQ to warn of a credible threat to the "electricity infrastructure supporting the Games".

The security team had already run extensive tests on the electricity supply systems supporting the games long before the threat, which, based on the discovery of "attack tools and targeting information", it was feared might relate to the Olympics. Nonetheless, additional contingency plans were developed during high-level meetings between senior government officials and LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) during the day.

In the event nothing happened. The whole incident is more of an interesting case study on how to deliver super-reliable power supply systems rather than anything that sheds much light on the capabilities of hacktivists or other malign actors when it comes to attacking industrial control gear. It's unclear who was behind the threat to the Olympics.

"There was a potential for cyber-attack even though we didn't suffer any incursion," Coe said during a press conference ahead of the closing keynote speech. "We had systems in place to defend against attack and this might have even acted as a deterrent." ®

Starting block-note

Coe and track rival Steve Ovett were rumoured to have been less than friendly when they were competing for glory in middle distance track races at the Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984) Olympics. Asked abut this, Coe said that he hardly knew Ovett at the time they were competing, partly because they lived at opposite ends of the country. He added that they "get along fine" since getting to know each other better after retiring from athletics. Speculation of any ill-feeling "shows that rumours existed even before social media," Coe told El Reg. ®

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