Although football is a sport steeped in the use of technology, it is fair to say that the relationship is symbiotic and with each digital evolution that is unveiled, the beautiful game tends to benefit because of it. However, the use of technology is also now eyeing up football for more nefarious reasons and with swathes of currency being passed around a collection of major European clubs, a new frontier of crime is entering the spotlight.
Cybercriminals are known for their unscrupulous ways and with them seemingly one step ahead of the game, the game of whack-a-mole between themselves and the relevant authorities is always seemingly in their favour.
Due to this level of anonymous bravado, no entity is off limits in terms of trying to extract funds via illegal means and with football in something of a state of flux at present, the dark tentacles of crime have attempted to land a rather costly goal.
Thankfully though, a recent attempt to extract £1m from a Premier League club was foiled and although the unnamed outfit and the managing director came away with their bank balance unscathed, it has certainly fired out a warning signal to their counterparts.
Because when it comes to the operation of cybercrime, the criminals adapt their methods and the more polished they become, the larger the challenge, in trying to ward off their tentacles of ill-gotten gains.
Of course, it is not just big clubs that are targeted, if anything it is the outfits lower down the hierarchy which become the proverbial crown jewel for these digital desperados and you only have to look at Hamilton Academical as evidence of that.
Back in 2017, the Scottish Premiership outfit were left in financial peril after an online defrauding – one to the tune of £1m, the same amount from the recent English Premier League attempt earlier in July.
A £1m loss to a club in England’s top division would undoubtedly smart, but with so much money available from sponsorship and television rights, a pair of gritted teeth from their accountants would eventually soften.
However, a £1m loss north of the border, will have quite the financial impact and after suffering hefty embarrassment with the story becoming rather newsworthy, legal discourse was carried out to retrieve their money.
An attempt that only saw them claw back 20% of their initial loss and with a rather red faced staff member being caught up in a sophisticated vishing sting, it just shows that football is not immune to any threat from cybercrime.
A report by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) says that 70% of the UK’s major sporting organisations suffer a cyber-attack every year – a figure which is more than double any other business industry.
While it is not just vishing and the illegal access of bank accounts that is of a concern, there is perhaps an even more prevalent threat for clubs and associations to be concerned about. A threat that comes in the form of ransomware.
The ability with one foul keystroke or installation, for criminals to possess all the data that is currently stored and only if an eye-watering fee is delivered, will that information be returned to its rightful owner.
Should a club be caught in a ransomware plot, it could have the ability to destabilise that very entity and although a rival club would unlikely buy that data on the black market, it could eventually be sold to whoever the highest bidder may turn out to be.
Which means, although the football industry has had to deal with some almost insurmountable challenges at times, it cannot take its eye of the ball when it comes to digital crime and with recent attempts coming close to financial loss, it seems the battle lines in the cyber world have been drawn.
Written by Dan Tracey