Southampton FC strengthens its defences
It’s been almost three years since Manchester United suffered a public cyber-attack which left its staff unable to use their emails and fans worried for their data. Southampton FC appears to be making moves to avoid the same happening to them.
While the attack on Manchester United didn’t affect any customer data, nor disrupt any customer experiences, it did highlight the need for football teams to sharpen their defence game off the pitch as well as on it.
And Southampton FC is no exception. In August, and just in time for the new season, the club announced a renewed partnership with cyber security firms Acronis and Tailor-Made Technologies to protect the club’s data assets and optimise data workflow.
According to Southampton FC’s director of IT, Huw Fielding the pressure to defend their networks from cyber attacks is “immense.”
“With weekly press conferences and weekly fixtures with thousands of the public on site and interacting with many of our systems, there is always a spotlight on clubs to get it right” Fielding adds.
“The pressure to resolve the issue in the light of the media makes it much more complex, especially where ransomware is an element.”
In football, as with all industries, there is a constant threat of ransomware attacks. However, in this game, the spikes in ransomware threats are especially prominent on transfer deadline day, when clubs need to have completed their deals to buy or sell players.
The main attacks that occur during this time, notes Fielding, tend to be phishing or email based.
“Transfer windows are a hotspot for attacks,” he says. “Often, hackers will pose as agents or other interested parties to hijack or otherwise negatively affect a potential transfer.
“While there is a general level of activity and threat actors throughout the season, specific times, such as transfer windows and specifically transfer deadline days, provide a unique opportunity for exploitive behaviours.”
At Southampton FC, it’s the data it wants to protect, primarily, from such attacks. As Fielding says: “Our data is our power.”
“There is an increasing amount of data required to operate a football club,” explains Fielding, “making sure it is protected, maintains integrity and availability is of paramount concern.”
Plus, the IT team needs to understand the data to best protect it, “by understanding the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our data, it can help define the types of challenges we face on a day-to-day basis,” he stresses.
However, it is not always possible within IT department alone, he explains: “Without having a dedicated Security Operations Centre, it can be really difficult to keep up with the latest trends and threats that are being posed towards the business.”
By bringing TMT to the partnership alongside Acronis, the club can leverage its expertise and experience in the sector to help address potential gaps.
Read up on how to avoid a ransomware attack in TechInformed special Ransomware Report
“The nature of a football club’s size and many facets mean that there are a growing number of areas to address through IT and cyber security specifically,” says Fielding.
“By effectively having four or five SMEs rolled into one, a single IT department needs to become an expert in all these to protect and help the business elements deliver in high-pressure environments.”
With the help of its renewed partnership, the club uses Acronis’ platform to ensure a good data process is in place.
“The Acronis services being backed up by TMT provides more flexibility over the management and configuration with assurances that should something go wrong, there’s a quick and effective support to resolve the issue.”
With football, the difficulties are akin to those of traditional SMEs, says Fielding.
“With limited resources and a high media profile, the pressure is immense,” he enforces.
However, sourcing third-party help and knowledge outside of the organisation puts Southampton at an advantage in its cyber security, Fielding enthuses.
Much like industry enterprises, “clubs could also benefit from working together as a single entity, sharing data and resources to help understand and track trends for football-specific cyber security.”
“This would allow great learning and improved responses when dealing with potential threats.”
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