UEFA 2016 Soccer Tournament Exposes Mobile Users to Risk

The big soccer championship converted many mobile users into sports fans, who increased their mobile usage as well as their risk to mobile threats.

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The UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Euro 2016 soccer event concluded on Sunday night with Portugal's thrilling victory over host country France. It was a monthlong tournament, and over the course of UEFA Euro 2016, fans across Europe not only increased their mobile usage but also their exposure to mobile threats, according to research from Allot Communications.

The research benefits from a large data set of 1 million European users.

"The network data of 1 million randomly selected users analyzed in this Allot MobileTrends report originates from Allot's mobile operator customers in Europe," Yaniv Sulkes, AVP of marketing at Allot Communications, told eWEEK. "The data is anonymized; it contains no personal details and consists only of Internet usage statistics before and during the event."

The report found that during the event, 17 percent of mobile users who previously had not used mobile sports apps or Websites shifted their behavior and became active sports fans. Overall usage of sports-related apps and Websites also increased during the soccer event: 44 percent of mobile users accessed two or more sports apps or Websites per day, up from 36 percent prior to the start of the tournament in June.

According to Allot, some of the users were increasing their usage of mobile sports apps and Websites to engage in risky online behavior. In fact, the Allot report stated that 40 percent of sports fans were at risk during UEFA 2016 event. Sulkes said his firm found users were engaging in two particularly risky behaviors: sports betting and social media activity.

According to Allot's MobileTrends report, gambling was found to be a risky category, with 77 percent potential risk for users, meaning 77 percent of transactions scanned by the Allot filter were found to have online threats, he said.

"It means that a mobile sports fan accessing a sports betting category is likely to become a victim of online threats," Sulkes said.

Allot worked with security vendor Kaspersky Lab on the report, which combines Allot's service delivery and telecom analytics expertise with Kaspersky Lab's security expertise to provide insights into the growing trend of online threats, according to Sulkes. He added that Kaspersky is Allot's technology partner for online threat detection, as Kaspersky's anti-malware engine is embedded into Allot's network-based Web security solution.

While Allot found an increase in risky user behavior, according to Kaspersky no unique UEFA-specific malware infected users.

"The report focused on the risks for digitally active sports fans during the 2016 UEFA European Championship and provided insights into how major events impact online behaviors and increase the potential for mobile Internet users to fall victim to cyber-threats such as malware infection, phishing and ransomware," a Kaspersky spokesperson told eWEEK. "We do not have any evidence that fans were infected with UEFA-specific malware."

That said, Kaspersky did report in April that hackers were making use of UEFA themes and titles in different spam and phishing campaigns.

"During the UEFA 2016 event numerous incidents were observed, ranging from malicious links posted on Facebook, spam emails leading to phishing sites [and] the download of malware-infected fake FIFA apps to online euro-themed fake sites," Sulkes said.

The UEFA event might be over, but attackers will have a similar opportunity this summer to exploit casual sports fans: the Rio Olympics. Sulkes says sports fans should be aware of online threats and be careful when downloading files or clicking on links.

"To be safe online, sports fans need comprehensive Web security protection on any device, including anti-malware, anti-phishing, anti-spam and ad-blocking, due to malicious ads," he said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.