Russian spies reportedly hacked Winter Olympics

And they tried to make it look like North Korea did it, according to The Washington Post.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read
President Putin meets with Russian athletes competing in 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics

Russian military spies were reportedly behind a cyberattack during the opening ceremony for the 2019 Winter Olympic. Here, Russia President Vladimir Putin meets with the Russian athletes  who were to compete in the games.

Mikhail Metzel

We already knew that the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea was hit by a cyberattack. Now it appears we know the culprit: Russian military spies.

The Washington Post reported late Saturday, citing unnamed US officials, that not only had Russian spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but they tried to make it look like North Korea did it, in what's known as a "false-flag" operation.

The officials feared the Russians might also try to disrupt the closing ceremony Sunday, which has already taken place in Pyeongchang, reportedly without incident.

A spokeswoman for the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to confirm or comment on the Post's report.

Olympic officials had confirmed the opening ceremony cyberattack on Feb. 9, but refused to reveal the source. The attack crashed some of the Winter Games' internal servers as well as the public Wi-Fi, which led to some people being unable to print out their tickets for the show, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

Security researchers who analyzed the data said the cyberattack was meant to cause chaos, and wasn't driven by espionage or financial gains.

With Russia the apparent hacker, analysts now surmise the hack was in retaliation against the International Olympic Committee for banning the Russian team from the Winter Games for doping violations, according to the Post.  

Russia predicted before the event that it would be blamed for a cyberattack on the festivities.

"We know that Western media are planning pseudo-investigations on the theme of 'Russian fingerprints' in hacking attacks on information resources related to the hosting of the Winter Olympics Games in the Republic of Korea," Russia's foreign ministry said, according to Reuters

Meanwhile, suspicion often falls to North Korea following cyberattacks and hacking incursions. The country was blamed by the US for the WannaCry hacks of last year (though North Korea denied it), and it's been accused of other breaches dating back to 2009

Blockchain Decoded:  CNET looks at the tech powering bitcoin -- and soon, too, a myriad of services that will change your life.

Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.