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A month after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the NFL conducted the 2020 Draft. With various stay-at-home mandates in place, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hosted the all-virtual event from his basement. League head coaches, general managers, and personnel used virtual tools to make their picks from their respective homes rather than huddling together at a singular location like in years past. There were no watch parties or large in-person gatherings. Players and their family members watched in anticipation from the safety of their homes as each name was announced.
Despite being physically distant, the 2020 NFL Draft was more connected than ever. And as the coronavirus pandemic has magnified and accelerated the reliance people, leagues and organizations have on technology, the potential for cyber threats aiming to disrupt and cause havoc have also increased.
To protect everyone from the front office to fans before, during and after every NFL game, event and activation – especially at major tentpole events like the Super Bowl and NFL Draft – the league continues to work with and rely on trusted partners like Cisco for their solutions and expertise on network security.
“The threats are forever evolving,” said Tomás Maldonado, NFL Chief Information Security Officer. “Whenever there’s money associated with an event, there’s always going to be different types of threat actors and you have to contend against that, not only around the integrity of the game and making sure the process is done and not compromised, but also trying to ensure things around data aren’t being hacked. We spend a lot of time around training awareness with clubs around the league about network security best practices.”
With nearly all of the NFL’s official partners and two-thirds of league stadiums already using their networking technology, Cisco became an Official Technology Partner of the NFL in April 2021. Much of Cisco’s first season as an official partner centered on the role of their networking infrastructure in connecting every NFL stadium’s replay control room back to Art McNally GameDay Central in New York City. But for Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in February, security was paramount for the largest sporting and television event in the United States. Through a mix of cloud and on-premises security technology, up-to-the-minute threat intelligence, and some of the industry’s most experienced network security professionals, Cisco helped the NFL achieve a strong, continuously available and protected Super Bowl enterprise network that was ready for the unexpected.
Together, the two organizations are working to develop a comprehensive strategy and playbook centered around the Cisco SecureX integrated security platform, which helps the league better understand, prioritize and protect against the latest attack vectors to optimize security efficacy.
The league used technologies like Cisco Umbrella, Cisco Secure Firewall and Cisco Secure Malware Analytics for marquee events like Super Bowl LVI and the 2022 NFL Draft on April 28-30 in Las Vegas.
Even though the Super Bowl draws a larger audience than the NFL Draft – an estimated 208 million people watched the Los Angeles Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium – the event takes place at a singular location on one day. In contrast, the Draft spans three days and features a seemingly endless number of activations and events.
While each marquee NFL event possesses its own set of security challenges and risks, the league and partners like Cisco have the right game plan in place to make the experience safe, seamless, and enjoyable for fans in attendance or viewing at home.
“We like to think of what we do similar to ambient controls where you walk into a room and the light is dimmed a certain way, the music is at the right tone so you feel comfortable and there might be a nice aroma in the air,” Maldonado said. “You’re relaxed and comfortable. If we can make security – both physical and network security – fall into that sort of model where it’s just there happening and you’re interacting with it but not fully aware of it, then I think we’ve done our job correctly. If you get there safely, enjoy yourself and get home safely with no security issue, then we did our job.”
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