IT Security In Sports: What It Means For Your Career, And Why?

This article is a guest contribution from freelance writer Jennifer Smith

cyber security in sports

Chris Correa (left) former executive with the St. Louis Cardinals plead guilty after hacking the Houston Astros database

Sports is all about competition, but what a lot of fans may not realize is that sometimes the most intense competition happens miles away from the actual field of play.

The stakes are high in sports, with jobs on the line, huge payrolls to satisfy, and sponsors expecting deep postseason runs. With all major sports taking on expansion teams in the fairly recent past, the search for players is more intense than ever before. And with the sports industry in North America trending to reach the $75 billion mark as early as 2019, the drive for revenue growth adds another level of intensity.

What has resulted has been a wave of questionable behavior that has cut across various sports. The stories have varied in their notoriety; not all have been as high-profile as the Deflategate story with the Patriots.

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Nor have they been as decidedly low-tech as the Foxboro debacle. Indeed, an act of corporate espionage perpetrated against the Houston Astros by a St. Louis Cardinals employee involved a level of hacking as advanced as any carried out in the Deep Web.

The hacker, Christopher Correa, managed to gain access to Astros computers and find their draft notes, trade ideas, and other information. His cover was that he wanted to see if Houston had hacked his then-employer, the Cardinals; of course, the judge was not impressed and Correa eventually plead guilty.

What Cyber Crimes in Sports Means For Your Career

The entire story is amazing to many observers, who can’t imagine that it would be worth this level of crime just to avoid drafting a dud player (or to avert another team’s successful selection of a good player). But the fact is that the process of drafting, trading, and re-signing personnel is a huge part of the team’s overall strategy and organizational philosophy.

Furthermore, the process of staffing a team is so rapid-fire that conventional means of recordkeeping are too slow.

A scout can’t watch a player’s workout, hand-write a few notes, and then mail those musings back to the front office for review. Instead, those field personnel

Instead, field personnel email the team with their thoughts about each individual player, and those thoughts are assimilated with the input of other scouts and coaches who may be anywhere in the country checking out other players. It is critical that the process is handled electronically.

It is critical that the process is handled electronically, and whenever sensitive information is handled electronically, there is a chance for security breaches.

Where Do You Come In?

For you as an aspiring sports worker, this has some very important ramifications. It takes skilled people with an IT background to, essentially, save these coaches and scouts from themselves.

Not all of them are computer savvy.

Not all of them know how easily they can be hacked.how to prepare for your sports job search ebook

They may be skeptical about the notion of somebody with a bunch of certifications in computer science coming in and telling them to change passwords, store data in the Cloud, and install software. They just want to know who’s got the best swing, the best read of a defense, or the smoothest jump shot.

Their skepticism is job security for you. More often than not, sports organizations want someone on staff to “just handle it” so they can get back to the main focuses of their jobs.

A Sports Career Path in IT Security

Should you find employment managing the networks and systems of a professional sports team, the first thing you’ll need to do is to set out on a mission to convince your staff of the importance of all kinds of security. The Astro-hack will undoubtedly create a teachable moment because as its repercussions continue (and as other hacks likely come to light).

The motivation should be easy.

Tom Brady, one of the premiere quarterbacks in the league, is once again facing a four-game suspension for the underinflated balls in New England. St. Louis nearly lost a draft pick thanks to Correa. Fines will abound with this type of behavior, despite the usual defense that “everyone’s doing it, we just got caught.”

It’s unclear yet whether the stiffness of the penalties is getting everyone’s attention.

The whole field is so new that there are few precedents besides these two cases, so the question is whether other teams think that their commissioners will hit them hard over a violation or if they can escape by blaming it on a rogue computer guy who was trying to make a name for himself.

League Rules Haven’t Caught up to Cyber Crime

NASCAR has perhaps the clearest regulations of cheating, with paragraph after paragraph of explicit and specific descriptions of violations and the associated penalties. Other sports are shooting from the hip, with no real idea of what they might do given any of a near-endless list of irregularities to consider.

The issuance of penalties is tough to figure out because it is so hard to determine the damage done.

IT security in sports

NASCAR has some of the strictest policies on cheating, while other sports league lag behind

If a team steals intelligence about a draft pick who turns out to be horrible, they’ve been punished pretty badly by wasting a draft pick. A perfect example is Sam Bowie drafted before Michael Jordan in 1984, who couldn’t stay healthy long enough to establish the legacy that he was expected to generate out of Kentucky. If the Trailblazers stole positive info on Bowie and it backfired, punishment served (BTW, we are not saying they did, just drawing a comp).

Leagues can always suspend coaches as New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton found out in the bountygate scandal. But that was an on-field violation, clearly designed to injure people. Commissioners can also suspend players, seize draft picks, and issue fines.

But there is also the possibility that the leagues will develop a more tailored approach, such as canceling a trade if it’s found to have been developed with stolen information. They could nullify contracts or shorten their lengths. Almost anything will be on the table, and once the various penalties are hashed out in court, it will be interesting to see who gets caught and what punishment they receive.

At the heart of all competition is a belief in the importance of good sportsmanship. And while no one would deny that there’s cheating going on in every sport, there is still a steady pursuit of underhanded tactics.

Preventing and detecting those, when they are electronic in nature, stands to be a growth industry for years to come.

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