It isn't just athletes that have been training hard for the Winter Olympics in Sochi; Russian hackers have also been sharpening their skills to harvest a wealth of valuable data from visitors to the event. But they're not as fast as some of the more excitable reports from the troubled event are telling it.
"The State Department warned that travelers should have no expectation of privacy, even in their hotel rooms," NBC's foreign correspondent Richard Engel somewhat-breathlessly reported. "And as we found out you are especially exposed as soon as you try and communicate with anything."
Engel, accompanied by Trend Micro's senior researcher Kyle Wilhoit, showed an Android Samsung smartphone getting hacked in a Moscow café "before we'd finished our coffee," and a MacBook Air and a ThinkPad running Windows 7 falling to online attacks from a hotel room connection within 24 hours.
But, as Wilhoit later admitted on Twitter, there was more than a little intentional fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) added to the report – or as he described it "part of the 'tv magic'".
For a start, the coffee-break hacking of the smartphone wasn't uninitiated, he said, meaning the user had to actively download unknown software. Wilhoit said the attack was an .apk dropped from browsing to a .RU Sochi-themed website that the user had to agree to install.
As for the computers, Wilhoit recounts that they were fresh out of the box and appear to have been put online with no attempt to download the latest OS updates, no security software of any kind, and unpatched versions of Java, Flash, Adobe PDF Reader, and Microsoft Office 2007.
Given the testing methodology, if you tried that sort of stunt in any Starbucks in the US you'd get similar results, but Wilhoit promised a full technical report on the incident by Friday.
TV magic aside, visitors to the Russian games are certainly going to have problems. Kaspersky Lab is the official digital gatemaster for the games and says that the multiplicity of devices that visitors will be bringing to the sporting event will make ensuring security a tough job – El Reg would argue a near-impossible one.
As any IT manager worth their salt would tell you, it's a good idea to take a clean-skin laptop when traveling abroad. But that means a system that's been fully patched, has all but essential ports locked down, and which is crammed full of the best security software coders can write, with any valuable data being downloaded via VPN as needed. ®