The importance of cyber security in motorsport

This week electric car manufacturer Tesla’s Twitter account and website were hacked by a group of hacktivists, which got me thinking about the cyber security of motorsport.

Hacktivism is on the rise and presents a growing problem for brands around the world. While motorsport has remained relatively unscathed to date, its authorities and teams need to be prepared for this trend.

Why motorsport is a prime target

Motor racing all too often courts controversy for off-track political reasons, whether related to the use of combustion engines and related oil products – one only need think of the Greenpeace protests against Shell at the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix – or the perceived alignments with certain governments.

Perhaps the highest profile motorsport hack occurred in 2012, when Formula 1’s official website was shut down by a DDoS attack from Anonymous following the controversial hosting of the Bahrain Grand Prix amidst widespread protesting in the country. This attack also shut down three affiliate websites: f1officialpartners.com, live-timing.formula1.com, and totalf1.com.

Similarly, both Formula 1 and Formula E have come under criticism for arranging races in Russia during international pressure amidst the Ukraine/Crimea crisis.

What is the impact?

Reputation is king, and it is much easier to lose one than it is to build. While Tesla’s hack only lasted for a single hour, misinformation was shared with its 564,000 followers during that time and caused its share price to drop in the process.

Although most race teams and categories don’t have to worry about share prices, they have a duty of care to their sponsors and their fans, both of which could be at risk during a hack attack.

A great example comes from 2013, when the Associated Press’ Twitter account was hacked, resulting in widespread misinformation and a loss of 143 points on the Dow Jones based on fake news reports, equating to around $136.5 billion.

The hack and the subsequent suspension of the account caused its follower count to fall from 1.9 million to less than 100,000, and many major news outlets sought to distance themselves from the brand to demonstrate that they were reporting facts.

In short, a hack could mean a loss of followers and the merchandising income that comes with them, as well as the sponsors that fund the very livelihood of the teams.

How to protect against hacktivism

The key to this, as with any brand, is good preparation and an in-depth understanding of your business.

Journalists, bloggers and the general public are more informed than ever before and the ubiquitous use of social media puts greater power in the hands of those who have a campaign they believe in. Be aware of pressure points and don’t overlook them.

Teams need to speak with their sponsors and set out a clear plan for their communications departments. All teams need to be active on social media, as the belief that not being present on Twitter means no one is talking about you is a common misconception and a potentially dangerous one.

Interestingly, we can return to Tesla for an example of how a brand may prepare itself against future hacks. The company is organising a hacking event, providing unlimited access to its models to understand the potential implications of smart-enabled cars in the future. Getting the hackers of side and identifying weak links can prove and effective solution in the long term.

Hacking presents a very real danger for everyone, but for those in the know it need not jeopardise a team’s reputations nor their on-track action.

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