Reading Time: 3 minutes

Apprehensions about a security loophole in an authorized Games smartphone application lingers and warnings have been issued to players and they have been recommended to use disposable “burner” mobile phones and other devices such as laptops.

Precautions like this stirred unrest regarding data security and privacy for participants and viewers at the 2022 Winter Olympics taking place in Beijing. Although not everyone paid attention to them.

“Honestly, I’ve been coming to China for 12 years or whatever, and I’m not that important,” said Mark McMorris, a Canadian snowboarder.

He further said:

“Maybe if I was a diplomat or something, then I’d switch out my phone.”

Shadowy cyber-surveillance and activity is a point of concern considering the ongoing strife between the West and China. The United States and tech watchdogs have long accused Beijing of extensive online prying and data theft, however, China vehemently denies these allegations.

As the Winter Games are approaching conclusion, and almost 16,000 athletes, journalists, organizers, and attendees are returning home, concerns shift to what kind of malware might be holding with them for those participants who did not take the warning seriously and acted on the recommendation.

However, the good news is that the Cybersecurity enterprise Mandiant stated there has been no proof of any intrusive activity related to the Winter Olympics 2022 by the Chinese or any other governments.

But that should not be taken lightly to consider as nothing happened, stated Benjamin Read, the director of cyber espionage expert of Mandiant.

Read expressed:

“Most compromises are detected weeks or months after they occur, so it’s too early to say for sure that there were no incidents,”

There’s also a possibility that online monitoring was vital when participants and spectators were present in China, and that it wouldn’t go on when those participants returned home, said Benjamin Read.

As a bit of advice, he asked to change the passwords for everyone who toured to China for the Games, when they return home and double-check that no dubious services or devices have access to any of their accounts.

He stated:

“It’s not always possible to know if a device has been compromised so it’s best to take every precaution,”

Unrestricted access to the internet is significant for various Olympic participants and players who share media showing their victory and achievements on social media platforms like Instagram. It holds significance for attracting sponsors.

“I’m on my phone for sure. I think we’re all on our phones,” stated Laurie Blouin, the Canadian snowboarder, who revealed that she was “feeding the ’Grams.”

McMorris revealed that he was operating his iPhone to watch TV shows, send messages, and use social media such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

Eileen Gu, a US-born Chinese freestyle skiing prodigy has posted content several times on Instagram since the Games commenced.

When a user inquired how she was able to use the prohibited app in China, Gu answered that “anyone can download a VPN,” or other software that encrypts the data no one but the recipient can see it.

The posts, that vanished later, ignited an online shoutout for internet independence, in part due to the fact that VPN apps are restricted in the app stores of China after the government cracked down on the usage of such apps.

Some other athletes from the US claimed that are also using VPN apps, which allows them to evade the “Great Firewall” of China; a censorship method that blocks online services, websites, and apps considered unfitting by authorities.

The US Olympic & Paralympic Committee told the athletes in advance that any kind of online activity they will do in China will be monitored.

The Canadian Olympic Committee also gave out the warning that there was a possibility of cybercrimes.

But as there were not any precise details about any danger or threats, according to the experts it most likely was not about having the upper hand in competitive games.

“The Chinese government is not interested in the average snowboarder,” says a senior fellow, Greg Austin, studying at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Greg said:

“They are interested in collecting whatever data they have and putting it into a database on the chance that the snowboarder would become a politician or a leader in a position of influence,” 

He also added that it is not an unusual operation for intelligence facilities of any nation-state.

Beijing also was probably keeping an eye out for anything politically delicate in Olympic attendees, and their interaction, such as communications with protestors or rebels, Austin said.

Journalists, attending the Games were perhaps a more titillating target than the athletes obviously, and many of them also brought disposable devices.

The International Olympic Committee commented on cybersecurity calling it “an important aspect of hosting the Games” but also to keep up with the secure operations, it wouldn’t remark any further.

Anyhow, some of the contestants taking part in the Olympics, who took precautions beforehand were expecting to continue their daily dose of social media and streaming as usual.

Mariah Bell, the US ice skater was given a disposable phone but she had not been using much of Netflix and social media, she referred to this experience as “both amazing and boring.”

“I’m very excited to go home see my dog,” Mariah said, “see my family, go back to sitting on Instagram for hours.”

Previously, concerns were raised against the MY2022 app for the 2022 Olympic Games. So, it only seemed fair to take preventive measures against it.