Sochi Could Turn Into Hacker Olympics

The Sochi Olympics schedule.

Everyone attending this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, should be extra careful about their digital security, according to new reports.

“It is not just hacking; the State Department warns that travelers should have no expectation of privacy, even in their hotel rooms,” NBC correspondent Richard Engel warned television viewers during the network’s nightly newscast Feb. 5, before introducing a clip in which he, along with a security expert, booted up a smartphone in a Moscow café and watched as unidentified attackers immediately began to cyber-assault it.

Engel suggested that the prolific hacker activity he witnessed in Moscow would also apply to Sochi, and that visitors to the Olympics either shouldn’t bring mobile devices, or else remove any sensitive information from those devices before traveling.

In October 2013, The Guardian published a news report, based on “government procurement documents and tenders from Russian communication companies,” suggesting that the Russian government had installed equipment necessary to monitor any telephony or data traffic routing through Sochi during the Olympic games. “Particular attention has been paid to Sochi given the large number of foreign visitors expected next year,” the newspaper added.

A leaflet circulated by the U.S. State Department also warned Sochi visitors about possible communications monitoring: “Business travellers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities.” In other words, traveling with “clean” devices could be a must for anyone headed to Sochi for business or government reasons.

As for those headed to the Olympics just to witness athletic competition at its finest—well, it might behoove those people to stay off the grid as much as possible.