Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred has said the organisation is “greatly concerned” after the St. Louis Cardinals were placed under investigation by the FBI and US Justice Department prosecutors amid allegations of hacking into the internal network of rival the Houston Astros.
The Cardinals are one of the most successful teams in baseball over the past 20 years and currently hold the best record in MLB this season. The New York Times said investigators have found evidence that Cardinals employees broke into a network of the Astros that held special databases the team had built. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the newspaper said, citing law enforcement officials.
The attack is said to represent the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team hacked the network of a rival. The officials did not reveal which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the Cardinals’ highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorised it. The Times said the investigation is being led by the FBI’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and MLB for electronic correspondence.
Law enforcement officials believe the hacking was carried out by front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to sabotage the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager, who had been a successful, but divisive executive with the Cardinals until 2011.
Speaking to reporters, Manfred said: “We knew about it, well in advance of the report. There is an ongoing investigation with respect to an unauthorised entry into Houston’s system. To assume that that investigation is going to produce a particular result with respect to the Cardinals – let alone to jump to the use of the word like cyber-attack – I just think that we don't know that those are the facts yet.
“There is an ongoing investigation; we've been fully cooperative. Obviously, any allegation like this, no matter how serious it turns out to be, is of great concern to us. But it's just too early to speculate on what the facts are going to turn out to be and what action, if any, is necessary.”
Manfred added: “I think you can rest assured that we will act appropriately at that point in time. I think people should also not lose sight of the fact that in addition to what happened, there's the question of who did it? Who knew about it? Was the organisation responsible? Was the individual responsible? There's a whole set of issues that need to be sorted through.”
The Cardinals and Astros have said they are cooperating with the investigation, but declined further comment. An FBI spokeswoman told The Times: “The FBI aggressively investigates all potential threats to public- and private-sector systems. Once our investigations are complete, we pursue all appropriate avenues to hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.”