Feb 7 2014, 6:43pm CST | by Forbes
Sochi, Russia hasn’t been getting the best reception when it comes to hotel rooms. Now more damningly, NBC recently televised a report saying that visitors to the city hosting the Winter Olympic Games, kicking off today, would be immediately hacked when they turned on their computers or mobile phones in the city.
Sounds scary. Yet security researchers have now called out the report, which referred to Sochi as a “minefield” for malicious cyber attacks, as not only sensationalized, but “fabricated.” Reporter Richard Engel essentially made his devices vulnerable by visiting websites and downloading questionable Android apps, which he could have done from anywhere in the U.S. too, security researcher Robert Graham points out. The story said nothing about, say, the vulnerability of public WiFi networks in Sochi.
That doesn’t mean phones in Sochi aren’t acting up. Mobile security startup Silent Circle has been getting middle-of-the-night calls from visitors to the Sochi Olympics, worried about strange happenings with their mobile devices. One group of three visitors from a media organization recently called in to say their smartphones were rebooting at 3am, Silent Circle CEO Mike Janke said.
“They know there was no Apple update or anything like that,” he added. “It happened to all three of them. One slept through it but the other two noticed the screen went blank and restarted. Not being there you can’t really know, but I’m assuming the Russian intelligence service is inside their device, or they downloaded something.” Russia, he said, was the “epicenter of mobile hacking right now.”
Janke said Silent Circle’s customer service reps had received multiple calls from people in Sochi whose mobile devices have been doing “squirreley things” like heating up and independently rebooting.
Security researcher Graham says anyone visiting Sochi should use a virtual private network over public WiFi to access the Internet. But generally speaking, they shouldn’t click on dubious links and keep their browser software patched and up to date.
“You should take those precautions every day,” says Cluley. “Regardless of where you are in the world.”
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