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The Paris Olympics is already facing cybersecurity threats

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ahead of the Paris Olympics in July, bad actors are already seizing the opportunity to create chaos. NPR cybersecurity correspondent Jenna McLaughlin has this story.

JENNA MCLAUGHLIN, BYLINE: After a major doping scandal and the invasion of Ukraine, Russian athletes have been banned from competing for their country at the Olympics for many years. For Moscow, that's a massive insult - and an excuse to try and disrupt the Olympics in its host nation. This year, with the Games kicking off in Paris in July, it's no different. For example, there's a weird fake Netflix documentary circulating around Telegram claiming to feature "Mission: Impossible's" Tom Cruise himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AI-GENERATED VOICE: (As Tom Cruise) Hi, everyone. It's me, Tom Cruise, the actor.

MCLAUGHLIN: The video is AI-generated to make it sound like Tom Cruise is condemning the International Olympic Committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AI-GENERATED VOICE: (As Tom Cruise) In this series, you will discover the inner workings of the global sports industry. In particular, I will shed some light on the venal executives of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, who are slowly and painfully destroying the Olympic sports that have existed for thousands of years.

MCLAUGHLIN: Pretty realistic - but, again, it's fake. Tom Cruise never said these things. The video is part of a report Microsoft put together about Russian disinformation narratives surrounding the Paris Olympics. Beyond corruption, Microsoft says, Russian threat actors are hyping up the possibility that there could be a terrorist threat to the Games, trying to make people scared to attend. A French government cybersecurity agency, Viginum, says Russia has been active since at least last summer, spreading these misleading narratives. Russia isn't alone. Here's Sarah Boutboul, a French intelligence analyst for the company Blackbird.AI.

SARAH BOUTBOUL: So there's a lot to cover always related to the Olympics just because it's such a worldwide event.

MCLAUGHLIN: Boutboul says French President Emmanuel Macron's public support of Armenia and its long-standing conflict with neighbor Azerbaijan actually led Azeri actors to start spreading disinformation about the Olympics, too. They seized on local protests, including a police-involved killing.

BOUTBOUL: Alleging that, you know, France is a discriminatory country. It keeps discriminating against minority group. It is Islamophobic.

MCLAUGHLIN: Boutboul and others say they expect these disinformation campaigns to continue and intensify. But they also expect more cyberattacks from ransomware attacks on third-party companies to disruptive attacks taking out Olympic infrastructure. It happened in 2018 in South Korea. Despite the excitement of hosting the Games, French cyber officials are gearing up for a challenging couple of weeks.

Jenna McLaughlin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Jenna McLaughlin
Jenna McLaughlin is NPR's cybersecurity correspondent, focusing on the intersection of national security and technology.
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