Sunday, January 30, 2022

REPORT: American Athletes Reportedly Told to Use Burner Phones in Beijing Due to a 'Unique Opportunity for Cybercrime' at the Olympics

Security walk by a billboard for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics during a snowfall on January 20, 2022 in Beijing, China. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Published: January 24, 2022

By: Hannah Towey and Scott Davis

  • American Olympic athletes have been told to use temporary "burner" phones while in Beijing, WSJ reported.
  • Personal devices may be at risk of cyber-surveillance and malware attacks, officials say.
  • The advisory is one of several security warnings athletes have received ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Olympic athletes on Team USA have been told to use temporary "burner" phones while in Beijing due to cyber security and surveillance risks, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee reportedly notified Team USA in December that "every device, communication, transaction and online activity may be monitored. Your device(s) may also be compromised with malicious software, which could negatively impact future use."

The advisory is one of several security warnings athletes received ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics that begin on February 4.


A University of Toronto cybersecurity watchdog recently discovered that China's mandatory app for Winter Olympics athletes has serious security flaws and can ban keywords that are critical of China or comment on Uyghur oppression, The New York Times first reported.  

Beijing is allowing athletes access to YouTube and Facebook, sites that are normally blocked by China's "Great Firewall." Even still, teams from the US, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada have been briefed on the risks of connecting to public WiFi networks, Bloomberg reported last week

The Beijing Olympics committee told the outlet that guidance along these lines is "completely groundless and these concerns are wholly unnecessary."

The Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott against the 2022 Beijing Olympics in December, citing human rights abuses such as the Uyghur genocide. 

In a seminar hosted by Human Rights Watch, athletes were also told not to comment on any human rights issues while in China. 

"There's really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes," Rob Koehler, the director general of the Global Athlete group, said during the seminar, according to Reuters. "So we're advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home."

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on the advisory to use burner phones and how this may impact athlete's access to personal social media accounts. 

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