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England’s Soccer Federation Asks FIFA to Address Cybersecurity Ahead of World Cup

England’s soccer federation has written to FIFA to express concerns about the leak of confidential antidoping correspondence by a hacking group believed to based in Russia, and to request assurances about the soccer governing body’s cybersecurity preparations ahead of next year’s World Cup there.

Since last year, leaks by the hacking group, known as Fancy Bears, have revealed confidential medical information of scores of top athletes, including tennis champions, track stars and an Olympic gymnast, who had received exemptions to take medication usually be banned under doping regulations. In August, the group turned its attention to soccer, naming 25 players granted similar waivers, known as therapeutic use exemptions, to take otherwise prohibited substances at the 2010 World Cup.

Even before that hack, though, which also included an email from England’s Football Association’s integrity chief to FIFA, the English had been bolstering their cybersecurity to counter the growing threat from hackers worldwide, according to two people familiar with the organization’s plans. Among the precautions expected to be in place in Russia next year — England can qualify with a win or draw in its next match — England’s players and staff will be told to avoid public Wi-Fi networks as well as those in their team hotels, according to people familiar with the F.A.’s plans.

The Football Association declined to comment on the letter, though FIFA confirmed its existence.

“We can confirm that The F.A. has sent a letter to FIFA related to the Fancy Bears attack,” a FIFA spokesman said. “In its reply, FIFA has informed The F.A. in such context that FIFA remains committed to preventing security attacks in general, and that with respect to the Fancy Bears attack in particular it is presently investigating the incident to ascertain whether FIFA’s infrastructure was compromised.”

In mocking messages revealing the 25 players’ names last month, the hackers also claimed there had been hundreds of positive doping tests in soccer in 2015 and 2016, including four in Britain linked to the use of the recreational drugs cocaine and ecstasy.

WADA said its servers had not been compromised in the soccer case, suggesting the information had been acquired from FIFA’s computer systems.

Coaches at the World Cup zealously guard their tactics and team selection plans for the monthlong event, often erecting fences around training fields to prevent such information from leaking out. Shortly before France’s opening game at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a drone hovered above the team’s practice session, leading the team’s coach to express concerns about possible spying. At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, photographers managed to capture details of Australia’s tactics after staff members failed to keep them covered during preparations for the championship match against New Zealand.

Fancy Bears’ original leaks about international athletes emerged about four months after the The New York Times published the account of Russia’s longtime antidoping chief, who revealed that he had run a yearslong doping program involving top Russian athletes. The hacks also are seen as a response to sports federations who banned Russian athletes from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Russia has denied that its government is behind the attacks. But law enforcement authorities have determined they originated there, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“For the purposes of computer security in general, FIFA is itself relying on expert advice from third parties,” FIFA’s spokesman said. “It is for this reason that FIFA cannot and does not provide any computer security advice to third parties.”

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