The International Olympic Committee opened up an investigation into the age of two of China'sgold-medal-winning Olympic gymnasts this weekend -- and closed it a day later, following a security consultant's discovery of online documents listing the competitors as too young to compete.
The security consultant, Mike Walker of the Intrepidus Group, used tailored searches of Google and Baidu to find excel spreadsheets that appeared to show the ages of Chinese gymnastic competitors at meets prior to the Olympics. If the competitors are found to be too young, as many as four of China's medals could be affected. On Sunday, the IOC reportedly indicated that an initial review of documentation has not found any issues and that the medals will not likely change hands.
Last week, China blamed the entire issue on paperwork errors, according to the New York Times.
"During the registration, there were some discrepancies in the age of the athlete, therefore that mistake has led to a series of misunderstandings afterward," Cui Dalin, vice minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, said during a closing news conference, according to the Times. "I can say for sure the age of the Chinese gymnasts comply with the rules."
Refining Internet searches to pinpoint sensitive information on the Web has become increasingly popular. Commonly known as Google hacking, the technique has been used to find vulnerable Web servers, sensitive documents and malicious code.
Walker began his research after The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press reported that stories in China's state-run media from last year had, in multiple cases, listed ages for the competitors, which would have made them too young to compete in the Olympics. Walker found documents that indicated that He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan would have been 14 and 15 years old, respectively, this year. The IOC requires that competitors turn 16 years old in the year in which they compete.
Soon after Walker, who blogs under the name Stryder Hax, found each document, the evidence quickly disappeared. The lesson, he said, is that -- while it is difficult to delete documents from the Internet -- an entity with the power and reach of China seems to be able to make information about He Kexin disappear quickly.
"I think I'm going to grab a beer and watch this young woman's life vanish into thin air," Walker wrote on Sunday. "If you're watching it with me, think about our upcoming American elections, which are going to be decided by voting machines which generate only electronic documents. Think about the permanence and weight of electronic documents. And think about a future in which our identities are purely electronic. Cheers!"
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Posted by: Robert Lemos