London Olympics officials prepare for cyber attacks

As athletes compete for Olympic gold, a different group will seek international recognition — online hackers.

Olympic security officials are bracing for an onslaught of cyber assaults that could easily surpass the 12 million attacks a day, or 500,000 an hour, that were logged during the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

"From the hacker's perspective, this is the mother of all opportunities," said Larry Ponemon, president of the Ponemon Institute, an Internet think tank.

The London Olympics is particularly vulnerable because it will be the most technologically interconnected, social media-driven event yet, security analysts said.

"The difference from four years ago is that there are lots more people using the Internet, especially through their mobile phones," said Gary McGraw, chief technology officer of Virginia software security consulting firm Cigital Inc.

The threats could range from hackers trying to put up a message on a scoreboard to more nefarious attempts to disrupt the games by knocking out London's electricity grid.

"If you had the ability to turn off an event, or just turn off the lights, and make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe, that would make quite a powerful statement," Ponemon said.

London security officials say they are well prepared. More than 3,500 information technology engineers and technicians have been assigned to monitor the Games' computer systems and networks. Atos, the IT company that is overseeing computer security for the Olympics, is monitoring more than 11,000 computers and servers from a "deployment center."

"We know that cyber attacks are a rapidly growing threat," a British Cabinet Office spokesman said. "The high profile of the Games means that it is a potential target, and we are putting in place measures to help protect against such threats."

Experts say many of the cyber attacks could come from rogue "hacker activist groups, such as Anonymous and Lulz Security, or LulzSec, whose goals are to draw attention to their political causes. Such groups might try to take over Olympics-related websites to post political messages or tamper with the events themselves.

"The Olympics people are going to be putting out lots of scores and stories through the Web. So if you're a cyber activist, that would make a really good target," McGraw of Cigital said. "Imagine if you could take the scoreboard and make it say, 'Go Iran!'"

Other threats could come from cyber terrorists. A sophisticated attack could cause havoc for those attending the games by cutting off their access to information about public transportation or taking out all the ATMs at once, said Stan Stahl, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Information Systems Security Assn.