The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has confirmed that its database has been compromised by a group of Russian hackers, who have gone ahead to post the private medical records of a number of US athletes online on Monday.
The BBC reports that the online hacker group which refers to itself as Fancy Bear released the medical data of a number of elite US athletes including tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and Rio Olympics sensation, Simone Biles.
The hackers tried to link the athletes to the use of illicit drugs on the WADA list of banned substances. The WADA list of prohibited drugs includes stimulants like cannabis, to a broad range of hormonal and steroidal formulas, to drugs for treating Attention Deficit hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
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However, each of the athletes involved obtained the necessary permission to use the medications on the WADA banned list. Under the “Therapeutic Use Exemptions” (TUEs), athletes may be allowed to use a number of banned substances on the list if they can submit verifiable medical proof of their need for such drugs.
The leaked documents reveal that Serena Williams had been taking anti-inflammatory formulas commonly used to treat muscle injuries, while Simone Biles indeed tested positive for Ritalin, a banned substance used in the treatment of ADHD. But the documents also showed that both of them had received permission to take the Drugs.
Reacting to the leak, Biles said on her social media account that she had been managing ADHD and taking the necessary medication with the approval of the sports authorities. adding that it was nothing to be ashamed of.
The Russian hacker group, also known as the Tsar Team on its website however dismissed the TUE exemptions, calling it “licences for doping,” while accusing Biles of using an “illicit psycho-stimulant”.
Earlier this year, Russia’s track and field team were banned from the just concluded summer Olympics in Rio, over allegations of state-backed doping programme for its athletes. It is believed that the Russian government used the WADA hack to undermine the organisation and get back at it for the blacklisting of its athletes.
Wada director-general, Olivier Niggli in a statement said: “Let it be known that these criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia”.
Responding to the allegations of a possible collusion between the hackers and the Russian authorities, a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, ruled it out saying it was “out of the question” that the Russian secret service was involved in the WADA hacking.
Law enforcement officials say they are confident the attack originated from Russia, and WADA believes its data was compromised through a system known as “Spearphishing” in which hackers send custom-made emails targeting authorized users of a database to convince them to click on malicious link. The link harvests important security details about the user which is then used to access a data base.