GENEVA — Russian hackers broke into a World Anti-Doping Agency database and posted confidential medical data of some American athletes online.
Athletes affected include tennis players Venus and Serena Williams and gymnast Simone Biles, according to BBC.
WADA said Tuesday the attack — which targeted some female members of the United States team which competed at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics — was carried out by a “Russian cyber espionage group” called Fancy Bears.
Kremlin has rubbished the report. Any possible participation of the Russian government or secret services in the hacking of the WADA’s data “is out of question”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying Tuesday by Russian news agencies.
The hackers revealed records of “Therapeutic Use Exemptions” which allow athletes to use substances that are banned unless there is a verified medical need.
WADA previously warned of cyberattacks after investigators it appointed published reports into Russian state-sponsored doping.
“These criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia,” World Anti-Doping Agency director general Olivier Niggli said in a statement.
WADA said it “extended its investigation with the relevant law enforcement authorities.”
Last month, hackers obtained a database password for Russian runner Yuliya Stepanova, a whistleblower and key witness for the WADA investigations. She and her husband, a former official with the Russian national anti-doping agency, are now living at an undisclosed location in north America.
The International Olympic Committee said it “strongly condemns such methods which clearly aim at tarnishing the reputation of clean athletes.”
“The IOC can confirm however that the athletes mentioned did not violate any anti-doping rules during the Olympic Games Rio 2016,” the Olympic body said.
Those behind the breach have adopted the name “Fancy Bears,” an apparently tongue-in-cheek reference to a collection of hackers which many security researchers have long associated with Russia.
In a statement posted to its website early Tuesday, the group proclaimed its allegiance to Anonymous, the loose-knit movement of online mischief-makers, and said it hacked WADA to show the world “how Olympic medals are won.”
“We will start with the US team which has disgraced its name by tainted victories,” the group said, adding that more revelations about other teams were forthcoming.
Internet records suggest Fancy Bears’ data dump has been in the works for at least two weeks; their website was registered on Sept. 1 and their Twitter account was created on Sept. 6.
Messages left with the group were not immediately returned.
Russians stripped of medals
Russia has been stripped of two track and field medals from the 2008 Beijing Olympics after retests showed their athletes doped with an anabolic steroid.
The International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that four Russians have been disqualified from the Beijing Games in cases involving turinabol.
Maria Abakumova, who won silver in the women’s javelin, and Denis Alexeev, who helped Russia’s men’s 4×400-meter relay team win bronze, have both been disqualified, the IOC said.
Britain is set to gain two bronze medals from the disqualifications.
In javelin, Christina Obergfoell of Germany is set to be upgraded to silver and fourth-placed Goldie Sayers of Britain could get the bronze medal.
Sayers had a national-record throw in Beijing. The gold medalist was Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic.
In the men’s relay event, Britain finished fourth as the Russian team including Alexeev set a national record. The United States won gold and Bahamas took silver.
The other two cases announced Tuesday involve distance runner Inga Abitova, who placed sixth in the women’s 10,000, and Ekaterina Gnidenko in cycling. Gnidenko has been disqualified from two track events at the 2012 London Olympics after her sample from four years earlier tested positive.
The IOC’s previously announced it found 98 positive cases in retests of more than 1,000 samples from the Beijing and London Olympics.
The IOC stores samples for 10 years to allow them to be reanalyzed when improved methods become available. The latest tests can detect the use of steroids going back weeks and months, rather than days.