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England expresses hacking concerns to FIFA before World Cup

The English Football Association is concerned about its players and coaches being hacked at the World Cup in Russia and has written to FIFA expressing concerns about information already being accessed in a cyberattack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds the FIFA World Cup trophy during its presentation at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, Russia, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

England has told players, coaches and technical staff to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks over concerns sensitive personal and team information could be illegally obtained in Russia, a person with knowledge of the FA’s World Cup planning said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because team security issues are private.

Emails between the FA and FIFA discussing doping cases were last month published by the Russian-linked hacking group, Fancy Bears, as part of a wider disclosure of illegally obtained information.

While the World Anti-Doping Agency has been previously breached by Fancy Bears, it is unclear which network these emails were hacked from. It prompted the FA to write to FIFA about its concerns about cyber security.

England’s Eric Dier, left, celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal during the World Cup Group F qualifying soccer match between England and Slovakia at the Wembley stadium in London, Great Britain, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

“FIFA has informed the FA in such context that FIFA remains committed to preventing security attacks in general and that with respect to the Fancy Bears attack in particular it is presently investigating the incident to ascertain whether FIFA’s infrastructure was compromised,” FIFA said on Monday, confirming the letter from the English governing body. “Such investigation is still ongoing. For the purposes of computer security in general, FIFA is itself relying on expert advice from third parties.

“It is for this reason that FIFA cannot and does not provide any computer security advice to third parties.”

Asked about concerns about cyberattacks at the FIFA tournament next year, 2018 World Cup organizers said they “would need to check with our IT Department.”

Even before the Fancy Bears hack, England was enhancing its IT systems to counter cyberattacks in light of concerns about Russian hackers, said the person with knowledge of the FA’s planning. Firewalls have also been strengthened and stronger encryption used on passwords, the person said.