In a both ironic and bizarre display of sensationalism, NBC News has done a report in Sochi, Russia the site of this week’s Winter Olympics on the state of internet security in Russia. NBC’s Brian Williams introduces the NBC piece by saying that, "Visitors to Russia can be expected to be hacked… It isn’t a matter of if, but when." NBC’s correspondent in Russia is then introduced and states that, "The State Department warns that travelers should have no expectation of privacy, even in their hotel rooms."
Let’s rewind that moment for a second here, if you take that quote out of context it is actually completely and wholly accurate based on the spying that Edward Snowden exposed the NSA of doing. Furthermore, even if slightly taken out of context, it would still be accurate because the NBC report doesn’t actually claim who would be doing the spying, The Russian Government, hackers or the US Government. After all, the US actually has a fairly involved role in the security of the Sochi Winter Olympics. Additionally, they quote the US government’s statements even though the US Government itself has been proven to possibly be one of the worst culprits of personal privacy invasion that we are currently aware of. In fact, some commenters have pointed out that this bit of sensationalism almost appears to be a form of propaganda, more than anything.
You can watch the video here on YouTube, but I suspect that the video will eventually get pulled and we’ll have to find an alternative source since it makes NBC look bad.
They then actually invite a security researcher to MOSCOW (not Sochi) to help them determine exactly how dangerous it is for foreigners to bring their personal mobile devices (Smartphones, Tablets, Laptops) with them into the country. A lot of people will miss the significance of the fact that they are actually conducting these tests in Moscow because it would be akin to going to New York and not expecting to get hacked and comparing it to going to the situation in Hawaii. Sochi is nowhere nearly as technologically populated or dense like Moscow and to assume that there are tons of hackers in Sochi trying to steal people’s data is borderline ridiculous ignoring everything else.
They then buy ‘fresh’ computers from what is assumed to be the United States and turn them on for the first time in Russia. Noting, that the devices they show in the piece are Macbook Air and what appears to be a Samsung Galaxy S4. The Macbook Air likely doesn’t have any form of anti-virus which would make using it just as dangerous at home as it would be using it on a free public Wi-Fi in Russia. They also talk about using Hotel Wi-Fi (unsecured) and coffee shop Wi-Fi (also unsecured) which means that both networks are just as vulnerable in Russia as they are in the United States.
They even consulted with Kaspersky Labs (of Moscow, Russia) who is apparently in charge of ‘protecting’ the games. Which in of itself sounds like a ridiculous assessment, when in reality Kaspersky Labs is probably a security consultant that helps make sure that official venue WiFi is properly secured. They really don’t have any control over Wi-Fi at coffee shops or hotels, which is likely where a lot of the internet usage is going to occur.
They complete their sensationalist story by talking about two laptops that they appear to have connected to the hotel’s WiFi in Moscow and claim that both machines were ‘broken into’ within 24 hours and that people were ‘poking around’ inside their machines. While this is likely entirely true, and that Russia is probably a much more dangerous computing environment, somehow they haven’t really explained how they managed to catch the viruses or if they simply started going to shady sites and immediately clicking on everything without having any sort of anti-virus installed. Heck, I could probably recreate a similar scenario anywhere in the US if I browse the internet irresponsibly as well. The fact that the data was being sent to Russia also isn’t much of a surprise since most malware on the internet today originates from Russia, regardless of your physical location.
The last bit of enraging sensationalism comes from the reporters’ statement of the thousands of American (they were very specific with Americans even though Americans are a minority in the Olympics) athletes and fans that will be entering Russia are "entering a minefield the instant they log onto the internet." And then he says that the best bit of protection is that if you "Don’t need a device, don’t bring it." Feel free to watch the entire piece of video above on NBC’s site, we’ll edit the page if it gets taken down.