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False clues make it tough to find WADA hackers

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LONDON (AP) — Medical data from some of the world’s leading athletes has been posted to the web and the World Anti-Doping Agency says Russians are to blame. Even the hackers seem to agree, adopting the name “Fancy Bears” — a moniker long associated with the Kremlin’s electronic espionage operations.

But as cybersecurity experts pore over the hackers’ digital trail, they’re up against a familiar problem. The evidence has been packed with possible red herrings — including registry data pointing to France, Korean characters in the hackers’ code and a server based in California.

“Anybody can say they are anyone and it’s hard to disprove,” said Jeffrey Carr, the chief executive of consulting firm Taia Global and something of a professional skeptic when it comes to claims of state-backed hacking.

Many others in the cybersecurity industry see the WADA hack as a straightforward act of Russian revenge, but solid evidence is hard to find.

What’s known is that it was only days after scores of Russian athletes were banned from the Olympic Games that suspicious looking emails began circulating . Purporting to come from WADA itself, the booby trapped messages were aimed at harvesting passwords to a sensitive database of drug information about athletes worldwide. Among other things, the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System carries information about which top athletes use otherwise-banned substances for medical reasons — prize information for a spurned Olympic competitor seeking to embarrass its rivals.

On Sept. 1 someone registered a website titled “Fancy Bears’ Hack Team.” A few days later, a Twitter account materialized carrying a similar name. Just after midnight Moscow time on Sept. 13, the Fancy Bears Twitter account came alive, broadcasting the drugs being taken by gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and other U.S. Olympians. It followed up Thursday with similar information about the medication used by British cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, among many others.

There is no suggestion any of the athletes broke any rules, but Russians seized on the leak as evidence that U.S. and British players were using forbidden drugs with the blessing of anti-doping officials.

“Hypocrisy” Russia’s embassy to London tweeted in reaction to the news. Kremlin channel RT broadcast a cartoon showing a WADA official picking up a bulky American player’s steroid bottle with a smile. “All good! You’re cleared to compete!” he says.

Citing law enforcement sources, WADA said the attacks “are originating out of Russia.” Russian officials dismissed the allegation; in an email, WADA said it wouldn’t be commenting further.

With little to go on, independent investigators have still made some intriguing connections.

Virginia-based intelligence firm ThreatConnect said that whoever compromised WADA did so using websites registered through an obscure domain name company that also set up the fake sites used in a variety of other hacks blamed on the Kremlin, including the one that hit the Democratic National Committee. In a telephone interview, the company’s chief intelligence officer, Rich Barger said he had been cautious at first about tying the WADA breach to Russian hackers but that “confidence is certainly growing as more and more people weigh in and lend their voice.”

Even the meaning of the name “Fancy Bears” is unclear. California-based threat intelligence firm CrowdStrike has long applied that nickname to an allegedly Russian state-backed group, but the hackers’ adoption isn’t necessarily a brazen acknowledgement of CrowdStrike’s research. It might be an attempt to hold it up to ridicule. Which interpretation the group favors hasn’t been made clear. Repeated messages to email addresses associated with Fancy Bears have gone unreturned.

Fancy Bears’ website doesn’t necessarily provide any more insight. Some its artistry appears to have been lifted from a Russian clip art page. But tech podcaster Vince Tocce also found Korean script in the site’s code — characters which vanished shortly after he made his discovery public. In a telephone interview, he said that showed how difficult it was to take anything for granted.

Some pieces of Fancy Bears’ infrastructure were almost certainly structured to sow confusion.

The site, for example, appears to be hosted in California but was registered at an address in the town of Pomponne, east of Paris, under the name “Jean Guillalime.”

A man residing at that address, Jean-Francois Guillaume, told The Associated Press the registry information was bogus and that he was mystified as to why the hackers had picked on him.

“I have absolutely nothing to do with this,” he said, adding that he ran a consulting shop and a flower business and wasn’t particularly interested in sports. “I don’t know any Russians.”

MORE: Six of top seven from 2012 Olympic event could be disqualified

Bolt’s London Olympic spikes stolen

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DERBY, England (AP) A signed pair of running shoes worn by eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt has been stolen from an address in Linton, Derbyshire.

The white, blue and red spikes were used by the Jamaican great in a 100 meters heat at the 2012 Games, Derbyshire Police said.

“The spikes are part of an extensive collection that I have built-up over the last 10 years,” the victim said. “There are only four or five pairs of spikes that have been signed from the London 2012 Olympics, they are absolutely irreplaceable.”

The victim did not want to be named.

A 35-year-old man has been charged in connection with the theft. The shoes have yet to be recovered.

Bolt, 31, who retired after the 2017 world championships in London, won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay titles at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, although he later lost the 2008 relay gold after a team-mate was disqualified for doping.

Anne Donovan, basketball Hall of Famer, gold medalist, dies at 56

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Anne Donovan, a Hall of Fame basketball player and Olympic gold medalist, has died of heart failure at age 56.

Donovan coached the Storm to a 2004 WNBA title.

“While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being,” Donovan’s family said in a statement, according to reports. “Anne touched many lives as a daughter, sister, aunt, friend and coach.

Donovan, a 6-foot-8 center, made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team (as its youngest player after her freshman year at Old Dominion) that ended up missing the Moscow Games due to the U.S. boycott.

She then earned gold with the U.S. in 1984 and 1988, being the oldest player on the latter team at 26. She was inducted as a player into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Donovan later was an assistant coach for the 2004 Olympic champion team and head coach for the 2008 Beijing team that took gold. She also was the first female head coach of a WNBA champion team with the Storm in 2004.

“USA Basketball mourns the passing of Anne Donovan,” USA Basketball said in a statement. “She played for her first USA Basketball team in 1977 and during her Hall of Fame, 31-year USA career, she was a member of five U.S. Olympic teams and four USA World Championship teams as an athlete and coach, culminating in leading the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team to gold as our head coach in Beijing. She used to say she bled red, white and blue. As much as we remember her accomplishments in the game, we mourn a great friend who will be greatly missed.”