Cyber security at the Sochi Games …

With all the controversy about the Sochi Olympics, especially the concerns about terrorist threats, a new threat has emerged that is probably more menacing than potential violence.  That threat is the cyber-hacking against the visitors and competitors at the games.

250px-Sochi_2014.ru_logo.svgRichard Engel from NBC News reported on getting both his smart phone and computers hacked almost immediately upon arriving in Russia.  Here’s his report.   The report is alarming and the message is clear: Sochi is a cyber-cesspool and if you’re there, your electronics have certainly been compromised.  The problem is that the assertion is false.  Though there is a valid concern about cyber-hacking at the games, Engel’s report is highly misleading.

What they didn’t say was that they allowed malware to be downloaded to the devices.  Also, they did the experiment in Moscow (not Sochi as was implied) against Olympic themed  websites that contained malware and they were victims of phishing.  In fact, they didn’t need to be in Moscow, they could have been in the NBC News offices in New York to achieve the same result.  Basically, they were complicit in the hacking against their devices and laptops.

What ever happened to journalistic standards?

So, is there a legitimate issue?  Yes there is, but sadly its kinda lost in the panicked message.  What they’ve proven in their report is that one must do the things we always say to do.  Don’t download any software that you didn’t explicit ask for.  Don’t surf to questionable sites. Make sure all your software is up-to-date (esp. Adobe Flash, Oracle Java and anti-malware software).  Be cautious about public WI-FIs (more on this below).

The real issue is that Sochi, like all high profile events are very rich targets for criminal activity.   With all the visitors to Sochi, I’d not trust any public WI-FI (not that you should anyways).  I’ve gotten to the point that I lean on my cellular signal more than ever.     When using public WI-FI, it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll be hacked.  At a high profile event, it is much more likely.   This is complicated by concerns of state-sponsored hacking by the Russian government.  Sadly, this could be via the local cellular provider.  (Before you say it: Yes, the US government has been accused of the same thing.  However, it doesn’t change the concern.)

So, whether you’re in Sochi or Seattle, you need to continue to exercise care in your use of the Internet and public networks.   There are no guarantees, but if you remain diligent with your devices and computers, you should be OK, even at the Sochi games.

Here’s more information from the Business Insider about the problems with the report, along with NBC’s answer to the allegations.

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