Spy bosses modify England players phones to beat Russian cyber threat

England footballers were briefed by GCHQ on how to protect their personal information and possessions while in Russia.

The squad was given guidance on security issues including how to hide their belongings in their hotel rooms.

As they touched down at their World Cup training headquarters last night details of the briefing – which had a particular emphasis on cyber security – were revealed.

Spy bosses stopped short of giving them temporary ‘burner phones’, which would used only for their trip and then destroyed. Instead, protective software has been added to the team’s phones and devices which will only be removed on their return.

They were also advised not to access their online bank accounts while away and to avoid any online activity that, if made public, could embarrass them.

The advice on cyber security came from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which hosted a seminar at the Football Association headquarters in St George’s Park.

Alarm over cyber attacks from foreign states, most notably Russia, has grown in recent months.Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, last month warned that Europe faced sustained hostile activity from states including Russia, which was the ‘chief protagonist’.

He said: ‘The Russian state’s now well-practised doctrine of blending media manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion with new and old forms of espionage, high levels of cyber attacks, military force and criminal thuggery is what is meant these days by the label “hybrid threats”.’

The FA asked for all devices belonging to players and staff to be screened by the NCSC before they left, with special software installed if necessary.

The team was also warned to take care to keep their personal items secure in hotels.

The NCSC’s advice has even been extended to England fans, who have been urged to take as few devices as possible and to avoid public and hotel Wi-Fi.

It has recommended that supporters read travel advice from the Foreign Office and all guidance on the ‘Be on the Ball: 2018 FIFA World Cup’ website. Ciaran Martin, of the NCSC, said: ‘Russia is our most capable hostile adversary in cyberspace so tackling them is a major priority for the NCSC.’

British sports stars – including Sir Bradley Wiggins – have been targeted by Russian hackers in the past. In 2016 hackers retaliated after the Russian track and field team was banned from competing at the Rio Summer Olympics for state-sponsored doping. It was feared the hackers had obtained medical data on more than 360 GB athletes who competed at the Games and might ‘drip-feed’ details online.

Earlier an NCSC spokesman confirmed it was providing ‘expert cyber security advice’ to the Football Association before players left for Russia.

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