World Cup 2018: GCHQ to brief England players over PS4 and smartphone use amid fears of Russian cyber-attacks

Exclusive: The Football Association is taking cyber-security seriously this summer and so will be taking advice from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Wednesday 30 May 2018 16:58 BST
England World Cup squad stats

The England team will be briefed by GCHQ staff before flying out to the World Cup to help them stay safe from Russian hackers.

The Football Association is taking cyber-security seriously this summer and so will be taking advice from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). They will be speaking to players at St George’s Park before the squad flies to St Petersburg on Tuesday 12 June, telling them how to keep their devices secure from hackers during the World Cup. The NCSC will also be advising the FA on keeping its own security systems as robust as possible given the likelihood of Russian cyber-attacks.

Technology will play a major part in the England players’ lives in their camp in Repino, with every player due to take multiple devices – smartphones, tablets and gaming devices – with them to the camp, in a small spa town just north of St Petersburg.

Gareth Southgate joked recently that most of the England players will play video games on their time off. “In terms of how they occupy their time in the hotel, a lot of them are young kids, it will be ‘Fortnite’ or whatever it is,” Southgate said.

With so many electronic devices going with the team, the FA will thoroughly screen all players’ and staff devices to make sure they have the appropriate software installed and to try to make them secure from interference. The players will also be briefed on rules to follow in terms of which devices they can safely use and where. “We continue to receive security advice from all relevant authorities,” an FA spokesperson said.

The NCSC has already issued advice to England fans going to Russia, telling them to take as few devices as possible, never to download unofficial apps and to avoid public and hotel wifi connections where possible.

The NCSC was established last year and largely focuses on protecting the UK from Russian cyber-attacks, both advising individuals and, as in this case, making sure that big organisations’ security systems are sufficiently robust.

“The NCSC is providing expert cyber security advice to the Football Association ahead of their departure to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup,” an NCSC spokesperson said. “A recent NCSC blog highlighted advice for fans using devices while abroad, which should be read alongside existing FCO Travel Advice and guidance offered on the ‘Be on the Ball: World Cup 2018’ website.”

Just last month the NCSC issued a joint technical alert alongside the US department of Homeland Security and the FBI about “malicious cyber activity carried out by the Russian government”. NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin said that “Russia is our most capable hostile adversary in cyberspace so tackling them is a major priority for the National Cyber Security Centre and our US allies.”

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