Security at Sochi: From Wi-Fi hacking, to surveillance drones

Heartbleed bug
The report cited “multiple sources familiar with the matter,” who confirmed the Heartbleed bug had allowed the hackers access. File/Getty Images

TORONTO – Between the threat of terrorist activity and concerns surrounding Russia’s strict anti-gay laws, there are already mounting concerns about security in Sochi.

Russia’s information surveillance laws and the risk of hackers have created a whole new string of security concerns not just for athletes and officials, but everyone travelling to Sochi.

A report by NBC this week revealed through an experiment that computers and smartphones were attacked by hackers after logging on to Russian networks.

NBC report Richard Engel, with the help of a computer security expert, set up two test computers with dummy information to test if visitors were in danger of being watched online.

After logging onto a Wi-Fi network at a restaurant, “almost immediately” malware was installed on the smartphone used for the experiment. The malicious software allegedly had the ability to steal the user’s information and even record phone calls.

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“It had taken hackers less than one minute to pounce,” said Engel in the report.

Two computers were also hacked during the experiment.

Adam Molnar, postdoctoral fellow at the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University said that with so many people travelling with their devices to Russia for the Games, it’s a safe bet that a lot of hackers are planning on taking advantage.

READ MORE: Despite terror warnings, little security hassle for Sochi air travellers

“[Visitors to Sochi] are at a greater risk of having their own personal, sensitive information taken off of their device,” Molnar told Global News.
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“It would be wise for them to take precautions – to be aware of the data that they are bringing on the device, and if the data is something they would feel comfortable with if it was stolen or lost.”

Molnar suggests that anyone travelling to Sochi should consider taking a “clean” device – which means using a device that does not have any personal information, or information that the user would not want stolen, on it.

“This is something that has come up at other Olympics in the past, but again now that there is an increase in the amount of digital devices that are networked the vulnerability risks are greatly elevated,” he said.

The surveillance expert also noted that hackers could try to target the Olympic-specific networks in an attempt to disrupt the Games – but added that is a threat at every Olympic Games.

The U.S. State Department also has a travel warning for Russia that makes mention of the country’s surveillance laws.

In 1995, the Russian Federal Law on Operational Search Activity passed, paving the way for the “System for Operative Investigative Activities” better known as “SORM.” The law allows the monitoring and retention of all data that goes through Russian networks – including phone calls, Internet data, and email communications.

“U.S. citizens should be cognizant of this law when using any of these means of communication,” reads the warning from the State Department.

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Though Canada does have a travel advisory up for Canadians travelling to Russia and to Sochi for the Olympic Games, it does not make mention of this particular law.

High-tech security for Olympic grounds

Another interesting privacy revelation coming from Sochi includes the allegations that there may be security cameras located in hotel bathrooms.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Dmitry Kozak – the deputy prime minister responsible for Olympic preparations – may have let it slip that cameras are located in private areas of hotel rooms while discussing the view that Western visitors may be trying to “sabotage” Sochi’s reputation.

“We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,” said Kozak.

READ MORE: Olympic media, athletes air their #SochiProblems

While Molnar wouldn’t speculate on the location of various security cameras, he did note that Russian officials are undoubtedly taking video surveillance seriously.

“I can assure you that there are thousands of additional CCTV and video surveillance cameras in and around Sochi,” he said.

That includes high-tech drones that will be used around the clock to provide surveillance for the Olympic grounds.

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“There is going to be use of 24-hour surveillance drones by Russian authorities and they will be outfitted with thermal imaging technology,” said Molnar.

“By and large it’s used to detect intrusions to perimeter areas – like athlete villages, or event areas. Particularly the venues that will be held in the mountainous regions that have a wide periphery, so authorities are going to be making sure that any potential ‘disruptors’ aren’t able to slip through.”