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World Cup matchup: FIFA vs. the hackers

The organization is bracing the World Cup's network defenses as the soccer tournament draws closer.

FIFA's networking partner Avaya is expecting hackers to launch attacks against the World Cup's network, as the first game of the long-awaited soccer tournament in Germany draws closer.

Roger Jones, Avaya's business development manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said he expected malicious computer users to reprise the to-date unsuccessful denial-of-service attacks against the networks servicing the 2002 World Cup, the 2003 Women's World Cup and the Confederations Cup, the warm-up tournament for Germany 2006.

However, Jones said Thursday there had been "nothing of note so far." He earlier told a group of journalists that white-hat hackers had been contracted to test the strength of the network.

World Cup technology

A security team from technology partners Avaya and Deutsche Telekom has undertaken extensive testing of the network's resilience in a range of scenarios, said Mike Kelly, the head of IT Solutions for FIFA, the organizers of the World Cup.

Kelly acknowledged the value of the information held by FIFA, which includes extensive personal details on applicants for accreditation to the tournament, which is billed as the largest sporting event in the world.

He said in a brief interview he was "extremely confident" that FIFA and its partners were taking all measures to prevent attacks.

Jones noted that the tournament's IT command center, based in Munich, would have network security specialists on hand constantly. Workers monitoring and managing other aspects of the network would hand over duties to a facility in Texas at the conclusion of a working day, he added.

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The Avaya manager declined to reveal which vendors were involved in security, including the provision of intrusion prevention and virus-scanning software, for the network. He did say, however, that the system had been substantially redesigned and the vendors changed from those employed at the previous World Cup, though the head of network security had remained unchanged from the 2002 event.

The World Cup network is required to run at 99.999 percent availability, meaning the IT Solutions project team and vendors have built redundancy into the network at all points, Kelly said.

He said the audience for the World Cup was expected to reach 32 billion cumulatively, up from the cumulative 28 billion who watched the previous tournament in Japan and Korea.

He said the converged IP network being used for the event yielded significant benefits for FIFA over alternative voice and data solutions. These included the deployment of less infrastructure, the involvement of fewer people making less effort, and the generation of extensive savings in call charges.

Kelly's IT Solutions unit is responsible for building networks covering hotels used as headquarters in each city where matches are held, as well as in the stadiums. The network must also be extended to facilities that are not part of the stadium proper, such as ticketing offices.

The IT Solutions boss underlined the enormity of the task he faces in undertaking the project, saying that not only is the network a temporary infrastructure with a short life, but that he and his team only have a short time to build it.

Extensive planning had to account for the fact that the last matches in the German Bundesliga championship finished in early May, meaning Kelly and his team could not get into the stadium until the first or second week of that month.

Once they did, "everything had to be deployed, tested and operational" within a month, he said.

It also has to be torn down completely as soon as the tournament is finished, Kelly said, noting that some venues had to be vacated well prior to the World Cup Final, in around four weeks. The stadium at Leipzig is set to be the first to go offline, presently scheduled for June 24, and the FIFA team has just three days to hand a "clean" venue back to its owners.

Iain Ferguson of ZDNet Australia reported from Germany.