Computer security is an inescapable topic these days. Frequent hacks of employers, retailers, and healthcare institutions have put millions of us in the line of fire for identity theft.
Like any other business, professional sports teams face these same hazards. They must safeguard social security numbers and other personal data for employees and vendors, but the nature of their trade brings many other safety concerns into focus.
Ask the Cleveland Browns or Tom Brady about the importance of secure communication. Both are in hot water in cases involving texting, the Browns for its illegal use on the sidelines and Brady after his messages helped implicate him in the ball-deflation incident. Most recently, some serious allegations have been brought on the St. Louis Cardinals after an FBI investigation found they might have hacked the Houston Astros.
Computer Security Issues in Sports
Without question, the issue of data security in sports is broad, and it covers several major areas.
Player Management Information
Email is just irresistible. It’s too fast and too functional to avoid. Yet all the conversations between scouts, coaches, players, and the front offices are loaded with data that opposing teams would love to get for their scouts, coaches, players, and front office.
Taken in the context of the drafts–never mind other transactions with personnel–these communications have some serious competitive implications in certain years. When club personnel don’t physically secure their equipment, create strong passwords, or install effective, up-to-date software, there is the real possibility of a breach. Trend Micro says that it is additionally important for computer security software to have special features to protect the Internet, especially social media accounts.
This spring’s draft saw the Bengals picking immediately before the Steelers. Had Cincinnati gotten intelligence about Pittsburgh’s intentions, they had the perfect opportunity to steal a player away from Terrible Towel Nation, sabotaging their draft strategy. An interception like that is worth more than anything a cornerback can pull off.
And what about agents during trades? If a sports representative got access to a team’s conversations about how much they are willing to spend to sign somebody, the player and agent are in total control. Given the money that’s at stake for both of them, it has probably been tried.
There is a complex system in every sport for disguising in-game communications. But what good does it do to hold a catcher’s mitt or clipboard in front of your face when your opponent knew what was up before the national anthem was even sung? Personnel departments are mobile these days. Many coaches and players don’t reside in their teams’ cities. There are recruiting trips, combines, camps, and dozens of other destinations for these key figures and management personnel to attend.
During those movements all over the country, there are plays to design and review, medical updates on players to evaluate, and scouting reports on the other teams to assess. Should those other teams be able to intercept these conversations, the scoreboard can reflect a very different outcome.
The hallmark of a fan-friendly sports franchise is their ability to give fans the amenities they want when they come see a game in person. Smart organizations are aware that all the selfies, tweets, and Facebook posts going on in their stands can be expensive when they consume the fan’s data. As a result, many facilities are providing Wi-Fi in their venues, with the San Francisco 49ers helping to lead the charge.
Sounds great, right? Thousands of your favorite people getting to create their own unique fan experience thanks to your investment in some technology. The problem is it also sounds great to a hacker situated in that same crowd, mining the network for personal data that can let him or her hijack someone’s credit or empty their back account.
So when these innovative niceties for fans develop for the cheap seats as well as the luxury boxes, there have to be vigilant staff handling the system to make sure the it is designed and maintained in a way that keeps the bad guys from ruining the good guys’ day at the ballpark.
There’s very little difference in how you play the game from a sandlot to a major-league stadium, but when fans, facilities, and salaries come into the game, it’s a very different world. Effectively managing computer security in that world can prove just as important as making sure there are nine men on the field.