The Role of the CISO and Information Security in Professional Sports

This is the second installment in a four-part series about CISOs. Be sure to read Part 1 for more information.

An effective information security program has a dedicated person in charge of overseeing security initiatives — usually a chief information security officer (CISO). This role is a given in many industries, such as financial services and health care. But what about other industries in which it may not be so common to hire a CISO?

One such industry is professional sports. Data security is as important to a Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL) or motorsports organization as it is to a financial company. The importance of information security in professional sports should not be overlooked.

The risks associated with rogue insiders, outside cybercriminals and malware, combined with information such as personnel records and engineering designs as well as all the money and potential competitive advantage involved, creates the perfect storm for cybercriminals to strike against professional sports organizations. Not to mention the fact that many of these organizations span several sectors, such as health care, retail, law enforcement, etc. This creates a massive pool of valuable information ripe for the picking.

Information Security in Professional Sports: More than X’s and O’s

Although the need to protect intellectual property at the professional sports level dates back over a decade, this isn’t just a theoretical situation. Data breaches are already occurring at a high rate and likely have been for some time. For example, former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa was sentenced to 46 months in prison and ordered to pay $279,000 in restitution for stealing information from a rival team’s player database, according to Newsweek. Another notable incident involved the breach of Tour de France cyclist performance data.

The 2007 Formula One controversy, in which explicit information was allegedly transferred between the McLaren, Ferrari and Renault race teams, made me realize there’s a lot to lose in professional sports. Amid much turmoil, the incident cost McLaren the Constructors (Manufacturers’) Championship as well as a $100 million fine from the FIA, the series sanctioning body. Similarly, less than a year ago, Mercedes took legal action against one of its employees who was accused of stealing confidential information in advance of his move to rival company Ferrari. At the NASCAR, F1 and IndyCar levels, such incidents could provide huge competitive advantages to rival teams.

Related to this Article

I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at one of the world’s largest sports car races, the Petit LeMans. There I learned about some neat research that the race team, Wayne Taylor Racing, conducted to study the effects of core body temperature, heart rate and fluid/electrolyte loss on athletic performance. I spoke with Dr. Ed Potkanowicz and Scott Ackerman, consultants on the project, to learn a few details about the experiment. Given all that was involved — especially the trade secrets and future competitive advantages — this testing data is a great example of valuable intellectual property that competing teams might target for their own unsportsmanlike gains.

The CISO’s Role in Sports

Regardless of the sport, big business is taking place. And where there’s big business, there are information security threats, vulnerabilities and risks. Where there’s money, there’s desire for ill-gotten gains. If anything, let this be a reminder that industries like professional sports are not immune to the consequences of data breaches. Although products and services in the traditional sense are not involved, the businesses and people behind the operations still have plenty to lose.

A full-time CISO would certainly help sports organizations minimize the risks of data theft. However, many cannot afford the six-figured salaries these professionals demand. In these cases, sports organizations should consider hiring an outside consultant or part-time CISO or chief information officer (CIO). The next best step is to hire an independent party to perform a risk assessment to determine where things stand and make informed decisions related to information security.

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Kevin Beaver

Independent Information Security Consultant

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, writer, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle...