Police play down Grand National hack threat

The UK National Hi-Tech Crime Unit says the chances of extortionists disrupting betting on this weekend's big horse race are a long shot at best

Claims that organised criminals will launch a flood of electronic attacks on the Internet sites of British bookmakers this weekend are wide of the mark, the UK National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) said on Wednesday.

With the Grand National taking place this Saturday, it's been reported in some UK tabloids that criminal gangs based as far away as Russia have threatened online bookmakers with severe disruption. Threats have been made that customers will be prevented from betting on the Aintree race unless the companies concerned hand over large sums of money, it was claimed.

But according to a spokeswoman from the NHTCU, which has been investigating the general threat since last autumn, this is not the case and certain publications are guilty of "blowing the issue sky-high". 

"We've received no intelligence about UK betting sites being targeted ahead of any sporting events. The only time this has happened in the past was when the Super Bowl took place," said the NHTCU spokeswoman.

She confirmed that bookmakers had received a number of general threats in the past from people claiming that they would disrupt Web operations unless money was handed over, and that the NHTCU has been working with them to address the issue.

"Rather than paying up, the betting industry is taking a robust stance," added the NHTCU spokeswoman.

A number of online betting sites suffered distributed denial-of-service attacks ahead of January's Super Bowl, and it's been reported that some UK companies were targeted during March's Cheltenham horse festival.

One industry source has suggested that bookmakers themselves are keen to talk up the level of threat they are facing, as a way of making their customers aware of the possibility of future disruption.