Tackling cyberthreats in the sports industry

The franchises behind sporting events are frequently open to cybersecurity threats. TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with a security expert about the unique challenges facing athletic organizations.

Tackling cyberthreats in the sports industry

Sporting events are becoming more and more digitized, and the franchises behind the games often find themselves open to significant cybersecurity threats. TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Brian Murphy, the CEO, and founder of  Reliaquest, about the unique challenges athletic franchises face when trying to protect precious data. The following is an edited transcript of their interview.

Brian Murphy: Professional sports or sports teams, college athletics, any sports organization is really no different than a large commercial enterprise. They have valuable assets they've got to protect. There's a large volume of money coming in and out of the organization. They have intellectual property and strategy documents that they want to protect. It's a little different with professional sports organizations. There's just a lot of different layers that go into protecting those assets and that intellectual property. So we just think of the NFL or the NBA or NHL, but there's really layers of what is the actual association protecting, what is the specific team protecting and then what about the arena where they play? What's the cyber accountability there? What are they protecting for the fan experience and the end game experience? Plus the ticket brokers and all the worlds that collide to create this massive industry of something that causes us to all sit around our TVs and pile in stadiums to see the outcome of a game. So there's a lot of things that can happen along the way that can change that experience and potentially damage the brand depending on what happens.

Karen Roby: You guys partner with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL team there in Tampa, talk a little bit about security for the individuals and the team as a whole. 

Brian Murphy: The athletes that play these sports, whether it's amateur or professional athletes, they are their own brand. They're their own asset in a lot of ways. Their activity on social media, their activity with sponsors, they're engagement on and off whatever field of play. They play matter, and it's important to protect those brands and protect those assets. It is a subset of the overall brand of whatever team that they play on. So there are a lot of layers in the equation.

The teams are extremely visible; it is a very competitive field. There's a lot of flow of money, not just from ticket sales and sponsorship sales in the venues or player contracts, but there's so many ancillary organizations and services, including, gambling, online, gambling, just the betting industry as a whole. There are all of the different brands that make investments from an advertising and marketing perspective. The social media, all the news, talk radio. We just think about the amount of time and hours spent every day talking about sports and talking about whether it's an athlete or a specific play or predicting what's going to come in the future. It is such a major industry worldwide.

SEE: 27 ways to reduce insider security threats (free PDF) (TechRepublic)  

Karen Roby: What specifically can franchises do to protect themselves?

Brian Murphy: I think it's like all security. When you think of the problem as a whole can be a little daunting, and we can start to, man, how are we ever going to do this? But I think you start and you do the simple things well. First, it's understanding what the risk are and looking at the possible scenarios that could happen or what are the assets of the intellectual property that we want to protect and why. There's an education component, but then we want to set up automation and opportunities for us to build some advanced correlations and some advanced monitoring and some more predictive intelligence to start to give us a heads up or a more proactive warning of when something could be behaving in a bad way. But I think in general it's understanding what your assets are, understanding what's important and then starting to do the work. The day in and day out to slowly evolve your environment and really we're talking about increasing visibility, and being able to be more predictive and see things faster.

Karen Roby: From your perspective Brian, you've been in this for a while now and working with pro sports teams and organizations, do you see that the individuals that are making decisions, are they taking this more seriously now?

Brian Murphy: From the CEOs of the organizations to the general managers, to the coaches and the players, there's no shortage of awareness around both amateur and professional sports organizations around the importance of protecting their brand, staying safe from a cybersecurity perspective, understanding who they're working with on a day to day basis, and starting to think about the different layers of what are their dependencies, what other vendors are they working with and how are they protecting their environments. So it is. That conversation has evolved over time, and it is definitely on top of mine from the highest levels of these organizations.

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