PARIS — Despite the hack of personal medical information from some of the world’s leading athletes, the World Anti-Doping Agency says its overall electronic database is safe.
The system, known under the acronym ADAMS, was targeted by a group of hackers known as Fancy Bears, who recently released documents listing confidential medical records for athletes including Venus Williams, three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and Olympic gold medalists Bradley Wiggins and Mo Farah.
WADA said it believes the cyber attack was made possible by email phishing.
“If you look at what happened, it’s not WADA’s system that has been hacked,” WADA director of science Olivier Rabin told The Associated Press on Wednesday on the sidelines of an anti-doping symposium. “The data that has been hacked was very specific information only made available for the Rio Olympics. So we have tens of thousands of athletes in the system who have absolutely nothing to fear. It’s just a fraction of ADAMS that was hacked.”
Rabin added that although it has no reason to believe the whole system has been endangered, WADA has been working closely with cyber security experts to make sure the broader ADAMS can’t be hacked.
“But we need to draw lessons from what happened,” Rabin said. “The fight against doping is not taking place in a neutral environment; it entices people with malicious intentions who want to gather information in order to harm WADA and athletes. Who would like to see his medical data in the public domain without consent?”
In a message posted to ADAMS users on the system page, WADA said it “is taking this situation, and your privacy, very seriously. The incident response team that we have assembled is actively working with law enforcement agencies in Canada and elsewhere, and acting on the intelligence obtained through our investigations to prevent any further intrusions.”
The leaked medical records have highlighted the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) in elite sports, with a number of athletes taking banned drugs with permission from anti-doping organizations, event organizers and sports federations.
Froome, whose two officially approved TUEs in his career were revealed by Fancy Bears, has urged WADA to “urgently address” the anti-doping system because it is “open to abuse” by letting athletes take banned substances as medication.
Wiggins, Froome’s former teammate and another British Tour de France winner, has been criticized over his use of TUEs after hackers leaked that he got intramuscular injections of a strong corticosteroid days before three big races, including the 2012 Tour that he won.
“Many athletes have to take medicine for medical reasons, and fortunately they are authorized to compete. In many cases the use of corticosteroids can be medically justified,” Valerie Fourneyron, the chair of WADA’s Health, Medical and Research Committee, told the AP. “As for the incomplete — and sometimes biased — information that has been leaked, we have no good reason to believe the TUEs were not justified.”
Fourneyron also said that the increase of approved medication entered into ADAMS between 2015 and 2016 was not related to an increase in applications.
“It’s just because more and more ADOs (anti-doping organizations) put the TUEs into ADAMS,” she said. “Several countries over the past year have put all their TUEs into ADAMS. The second explanation is that (there was an increase use of ADAMS) because of the Olympics and Paralympic Games. It was necessary to put all the TUEs in ADAMS before he competition started.”