Why F1 must not ignore the threat from ransomware

Jonathan Noble, motorsport.com on 12th September 2017

Formula 1 needs to do more to protect itself from the growing threat of a serious ransomware attack, claims a leading computer expert who has become heavily involved in the sport.
Ransomware, which is malicious software that cripples a computer before demanding payment to unblock the machine, is a booming industry – worth around $5 billion a year to cybercriminals.

It has come a long way from being the domain of hackers working alone in their bedrooms. Now, sophisticated groups are offering on the dark web (in exchange for a cut of the profits) off-the-shelf programmes for anyone wanting to launch their own attack.

This year has witnessed two big ransomware episodes – the WannaCry attack that crippled the NHS in the UK, and the Petya attack which hurt a host of European businesses.

Hundreds of thousands of computers were infected in those two incidents alone, and there was no better proof that criminals are getting cleverer, more aggressive and able to go after many more computers than they had in the past.

But with F1 being one of the most technologically advanced sports in the world – and with a huge global presence – has it done enough to ensure it could not be held to ransom, or are there chinks in its armour that could leave it open to attack?

Global threat

Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing RB13 Team Principal on the pit wall gantry
Photo by: Sutton Images
One of the big tech companies working to protect businesses from ransomware is Acronis. Last year, it teamed up with Toro Rosso to help with data solutions, and it has helped make improvements in several areas – including data back-up and safe file distribution.

John Zanni, who has recently been appointed as president of Acronis, has seen big progress in Toro Rosso’s IT sophistication – and a growing acceptance of the need for state-of-the-art computer solutions.

“Toro Rosso is using our technology more and more,” he said. “For example, using our Acronis Access Advance for file sharing across their base in Faenza and their partners, they can control who can see what when – so after a set time, or if someone has moved on, then they no longer have access to that file.”

But despite helping push Toro Rosso to practices that help the team, Zanni is aware that there are areas where F1 is behind other industries.

The wider business world is on ever higher alert about the growing sophistication of ransomware attacks – especially after WannaCry and Petya – and Zanni says he is bit surprised by how relaxed F1 as a whole seems to be about the matter.

“F1 is a very insular community,” Zanni told Motorsport.com. “Everyone knows everyone here, so once you penetrate that community, you get accepted.

“It is a great opportunity to become part of this culture and sell your products as well, and that is something I have noticed in the last few months.

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