On Tuesday the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirmed that a Russian cyber-espionage group hacked WADA’s database and published online the confidential medical files of four American athletes who competed in the Rio Olympic Games. Among those affected by the Russian hack were tennis star sisters Serena Williams and Venus Williams, world-renowned U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, and WNBA player Elena Delle Donne.
According to WADA, a Russian espionage group called Tsar Team illegally gained access to WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) via an International Olympic Committee (IOC) account for the Rio games. Tsar Team, also known as APT28 and Fancy Bear, is widely believed to have also been behind the Democratic Party hacks in June.
WADA said that the U.S. government confirmed to the agency that the attacks originated in Russia, although WADA spokeswoman Maggie Durand declined to elaborate or say how the operation had been uncovered.
The information the hackers seized included confidential medical records that granted Olympic athletes — including Biles, Donne, and the Williams’ sisters — a medical exemption that allowed them to use certain drugs to treat an underlying illness or condition, but that are otherwise banned in competitive sports due to their performance-enhancing effects.
“Today we’d like to tell you about the US Olympic team and their dirty methods to win,” the Russian cyber-espionage group wrote on its website Monday, while also posting links to the medical reports listing the drugs that were cleared for certain athletes.
According to the hacking group, the newly released information is evidence that WADA and the IOC are “corrupt.” The hackers also said on the site — which internet registration records indicate was created on September 1 — that they plan on disclosing information about athletes from other nations in the future.
“WADA condemns these ongoing cyber-attacks that are being carried out in an attempt to undermine WADA and the global anti-doping system,”said Olivier Niggli, WADA’s director general. “Let it be known that these criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia,” Niggli added.
The leak of information about Biles — who came home from the Rio 2016 Summer Games with four gold medals and one bronze — prompted her to disclose on Tuesday via Twitter that she has ADHD and that she takes medication for it.
“I have ADHD and I have taken medicine for it since I was a kid,” Biles said. “Please know, I believe in clean sport, have always followed the rules, and will continue to do so as fair play is critical to sport and is very important to me.”
Although it’s true that ADHD medications like Ritalin and Adderall can have some performance-enhancing effects, such as the ability to sustain physical effort for extended periods of time and a better ability to focus, the IOC confirmed that the athletes mentioned in Tuesday’s leak did not violate any anti-doping rules during the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
“In each of the situations, the athlete has done everything right in adhering to the global rules for obtaining permission to use a needed medication,” said Travis Tygart, the chief executive of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
The investigation into the breach is ongoing, but the WADA believes spear phishing was the technique of choice and that other ADAMS data is unaffected. ADAMS was also targeted in August, when hackers obtained the password of Yuliya Stepanova, the WADA whistleblower who helped expose systemic Russian doping.