Guest Blogger: Kevin P. Demody, Summer Associate
Cyberattacks are not reserved for science fiction or corporate America; they can also impact professional sports. An example of cybercrime is currently unfolding in Major League Baseball, where the St. Louis Cardinals are under investigation for cyberattacks. The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors are investigating whether the Cardinals hacked into the Houston Astros’ computer systems to obtain confidential baseball data.
Investigators have discovered evidence suggesting that Cardinals’ front office employees hacked the Astros’ computer systems containing information regarding possible trades, injury reports, and scouting evaluations. If the allegations prove to be accurate, the attack would be the first known instance of corporate cyber warfare between professional sporting organizations. The Cardinals organization, one of the most successful baseball clubs over the past two decades, has been served with subpoenas to obtain electronic correspondence that may have been related to the attacks.
In a written statement from Major League Baseball, the organization assured the public that it “has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database.” The League also promised to “evaluate the next steps” and “make decisions promptly” after the federal investigation concludes.
The cyberattacks may have been a revenge tactic by Cardinals’ employees against former Cardinals executive and current Astros’ general manager, Jeff Luhnow. Mr. Luhnow, a scouting and player development executive with the Cardinals, was instrumental in the team’s World Series success by developing a unique way to evaluate players and manage talent. Much of Luhnow’s success with the Cardinals was attributed to a computer system, named “Redbird,” which contained the organization’s collective baseball knowledge. When Mr. Luhnow’s polarizing tenure with the Cardinals came to an end after the 2011 season, he left to become the general manger of the Astros. Once with the Astros, he used his computer expertise to create an electronic baseball knowledge system similar to the Cardinals’ “Redbird.”
The Astros’ system, known as “Ground Control,” was a collection of the team’s baseball data that weighted information based on the opinions of the team’s physicians, scouts, statisticians, and coaches. Investigators believe that members of the Cardinals organization used Luhnow’s old passwords to hack into the team’s system and steal data. This is a common practice among cybercriminals who attempt to use previous passwords to gain access to other restricted networks. The investigation initially began last year when the Astros believed that the cyberattacks had originated from rouge outside hackers. It was only after further investigation that the F.B.I. determined the source of the cyberattacks to be a home occupied by a Cardinals’ employee.
At this point the investigation is ongoing and federal officials would not comment on which Cardinals’ employees were involved in the matter or if the front office executives had any knowledge of the cyberattacks. No Cardinals’ employees have been suspended or put on leave yet.