If you're headed to Sochi for the Winter Olympics, it might be best to stay off the grid.
The State Department has already warned travellers that they should have no expectation of privacy while in Russia. And now, NBC's Richard Engel has demonstrated just how easy it is to get hacked while at the games.
Engel, NBC's chief foreign correspondent, teamed with Kyle Wilhoit, a threat researcher with Trend Micro, to test how quickly devices could be compromised while in Russia. Prior to arrival, Wilhoit created a fake online profile for Engel - including bogus contacts, email, and Twitter account. They then brought a Mac, a Lenovo PC running Windows 7, and an Android smartphone to Sochi and signed in with the fake accounts, with Wilhoit mimicking Engel's typical Web usage to draw in attackers.
According to Engel's report (video below), the smartphone was attacked almost instantly as he browsed for information about the games at a local coffee shop; the report did not specify if they were on the shop's public Wi-Fi or a cellular network. The PCs were also breached almost instantaneously from someone who appeared to be in Russia.
In a blog post about the experiment, Wilhoit said that none of the devices had security software installed, which would put any device at risk no matter the country. They were running standard operational programs such as Java, Flash, Adobe PDF Reader, Microsoft Office 2007, and a few additional productivity programs. he said.
Wilhoit said he will publish a more technical blog post on Friday that details exactly how the devices were compromised. The target audience of the NBC piece, he said on Twitter, "wasn't technical."
In its Sochi visitors guide, meanwhile, the US State Department warned travellers that "Russian Federal law permits the monitoring, retention and analysis of all data that traverses Russian communication networks, including Internet browsing, email messages, telephone calls, and fax transmissions."
Those reporters and spectators who are already at the games, meanwhile, seem to be more concerned about the accommodation, which ranges from the amusing to bizarre and frightening.
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