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Williams F1 car launch disrupted by data leak

Williams Formula One team forced to pull augmented reality app it had planned to use to launch its 2021 car at the last minute after an apparent cyber attack

The planned 5 March launch of the 2021 Williams Racing Formula One team car, the FW43B, has been disrupted by malicious actors who accessed the back end of an augmented reality app that the team had developed to show off its new car, and leaked details online.

The team, which works extensively with cyber security firm Acronis to protect its data, pulled the app from both the Apple App Store and Google Play shortly before the planned online event. According to GPfans, the app would have enabled viewers to project a full-size, 3D model of the FW43B into their homes, and was also set to host a virtual meet-and-greet with the team’s bosses and drivers.

“Williams Racing planned to reveal its 2021 challenger, the FW43B, via an augmented reality app later today [5 March],” a team spokesperson said in a statement. “However, sadly, because the app was hacked prior to launch, this will no longer be possible.

“We were very much looking forward to sharing this experience with our fans, particularly during this difficult time when being able to bring in-person experiences directly to our fans is sadly not possible. We can only apologise.”

Williams driver George Russell tweeted: “Massive shame. I’ve seen the app and it was going to be an awesome experience for you guys. Whoever did this, seriously not cool.”

The formerly family-run team, which was sold last year to private equity house Dorilton Capital, hopes to make a return to racing form in 2021 after a run of bad luck in recent seasons.

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Last month, the team renewed an ongoing relationship with Acronis – which dates back to 2014 – to further extend its use of the firm’s Cyber Protect data protection and management suite across its entire IT infrastructure.

The product, which is used by a number of other sports teams, including Atlético Madrid and the San Diego Padres, is designed to integrate fast and reliable backup, an artificial intelligence (AI)-enhanced antivirus and malware solution, and endpoint management from behind a single-pane-of-glass interface.

Acronis says this approach eliminates complexity and makes it simple for security teams to manage and monitor workloads, data, applications and systems across their networks.

Update: 8 March

There is no indication or evidence to link the incident with any kind of substantial cyber security failure beyond the affected app, and Williams has now confirmed that none of its core systems or data were accessed in the incident. A team spokesperson told Computer Weekly: “Further to yesterday’s [Friday's] statement, Williams Racing would like to clarify that the compromise of the AR app, which prevented us using it to launch the FW43B livery, was completely outside of Williams Racing’s in-house systems and networks which are protected by leading cyber security companies with whom we are proud to partner.”

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