Ahead of the Winter Olympics slated to begin in Beijing this Friday, February 4, FBI Director Christopher Wray offers a somber warning regarding the host country.
Olympic athletes were warned weeks ago to leave their cellular devices at home and only carry “burner” phones due to the high possibility that their phones could be hacked or otherwise compromised.
Olympians are required to download the “My Olympics” app on their phones, as are all journalists and spectators. The app is said to provide COVID-19 updates, as well as voice chats, file transfers and news about the Games. However, the cyber watchdog Citizen Lab says that the app does not offer encryption on many of its files.
The Chinese have dismissed concerns, but those attending the Games have been warned to invest in a burner phone. Athletes were instructed to download the app fourteen days prior to their arrival in Beijing.
Now, Federal Bureau of Investigation head Christopher Wray is offering a warning of his own – not only to Olympians, but to the American public as well. That warning – stay off your social media while you’re in China. This comes shortly after Chinese officials said they would “weaken” the firewalls typically preventing Chinese individuals from accessing Facebook and Twitter so that athletes from visiting countries may access their social media.
Wray says that this could open the door for Americans to fall prey to Chinese espionage tactics.
The FBI director also added that, currently, the agency has over 2,000 open investigations into “the Chinese government’s attempts to steal private information and intellectual property.”
“There’s no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, innovation, and economic security than China. The Chinese government steals staggering volumes of information and causes deep, job-destroying damage across a wide range of industries,” Wray said from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Monday.
Wray also described the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as “more brazen” and “more damaging than ever before” as counter-intelligence operations in the United States open every twelve hours.
A spokesman for the Department of Defense on Monday reiterated the warning regarding burner phones for athletes: “Keep personal cell phones at home and use a temporary phone while at the Games.” He added that social engineering as well as phishing campaigns could be utilized to plant malware in personal devices in an effort to “disrupt networks broadcasting the event.”
Wray said that, currently, China poses a greater threat to America than Russia. This is due to the country’s global economic reach as well as their technological capabilities. Although Moscow has proven it is also able to carry out cybercrime, the FBI said that China has recently discharged a hacking program Wray described as “bigger than those of every other major country combined.”
Russia’s cyber shenanigans have included hampering American access to water and energy as well as attempting to disrupt the meat industry in the United States. However, the Chinese have utilized cybercrime to steal American data in order to gain intelligence.
Wray said that the Chinese aren’t just hacking Americans and their data; they are “causing indiscriminate damage” in order to get the intelligence they desire.
American security officials have also added that cybercriminals may attempt to profit from the Olympics; they have done so in the past. During the 2020 games in Tokyo, over 450 million cyber-related incidents were attempted. However, cybercriminals were unable to succeed due to security measures put in place ahead of the Games.
Although Wray’s warning is serious, he reminded the American people that “we (the American people and the free world) are confronting this threat and winning important battles.”