Our summary

An NBC News report claims that the mass influx of athletes, their fans, and families to the $51 billion sports event that is the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics has attracted swarms of hackers intent on compromising visitors smart phones, tablets, and laptop computers as they connect to the internet via WiFi hotspots.

According to the report, with the Opening Ceremony due on Friday and the games due to start today (Thursday), hacking has reached such a fever pitch that visitors are getting hacked almost as soon as they turn on their smart phones at airport Arrivals, and it’s not just hacking that they have to worry about,
‘The State department has warned that travellers should have no expectation of privacy, even in their hotel rooms.’

The report goes on to show a computer security expert demonstrating to anchorman Richard Edge how computers and smart phones are hacked in very short spaces of time,

‘It had taken hackers less than one minute to pounce, within 24 hours they had broken into both of my computers.’

The report is undoubtedly sensationalist, but renowned anti-malware firm Kapersky Labs, who have been tasked overseeing internet security at the games, confirmed the scale of challenge,

‘Every segment of this huge, huge infrastructure can be under attack.’

The report concludes with advice that visitors should simply not use any internet connected device for the duration of their stay in Sochi, or if they must, then to remove any sensitive data from their devices before leaving home.

Now, while we cannot criticise such advice, for many it is highly impractical (and therefore won’t be followed), and is anyway somewhat overkill given that some basic security measures can provide a very high degree of protection against hacking:

  • Use VPN religiously – with VPN, all internet traffic in and out of your device is encrypted so that it cannot be intercepted by a hacker. Use a trusted and reliable provider (not a free one), and use the best encryption available (most VPN providers now offer excellent  256-bit OpenVPN – never use the PPTP protocol as it is very insecure). Use VPN on all your devices and, if it lets you, start your VPN software up before connecting to the internet. If your VPN software has an internet kill switch then use it (or use a third party alternative). It should be noted that using a VPN is this situation is better than using Tor or suchlike, as all a device’s internet traffic is encrypted, not just the browser connection
  • Use a good anti-virus program, and keep its definitions up to date. Free programs such AVG Free are ok, but they typically do not include extra’s such as a firewall. If you are running Windows then doing regular manual scans with the excellent (and free) Malwarebytes to pick up anything nasty that your regular anti-virus program may have missed also can’t hurt
  • Use a third-party firewall – if your security suite does not include one then use a third party firewall such as Comodo Personal Firewall (free). The firewalls built into Windows and OSX monitor incoming traffic only, but for maximum protection you want a firewall that monitors traffic in both directions
  • Encrypt sensitive data – if you must store sensitive information on your device then encrypt it using a program such as TrueCrypt
  • Turn off Bluetooth – Bluetooth is notoriously easy to hack, so use cabled peripherals  (headphones, mouse etc.) and turn it off

There are of course no cast-iron guarantees in life, but taking the above precautions will make a hacker’s job much more difficult, and in the case of the Sochi Olympics, vast numbers of mush easier prey are available to them…

Note that for brevity’s sake we have given quick examples for Windows, but there are plenty of options available for other platforms. These include:

  • OSX – Avast! antivirus (free) and Little Snitch firewall. Note that Little Snitch is outgoing only, but the built-in OSX firewall can handle incoming connections just fine. Do not believe the rubbish spouted on the internet that Macs don’t need anti-virus software!
  • Android – Avast! for android (free) is great anti-virus program with a built-in firewall
  • iOS – Apple foolishly insists that iOS does not need additional anti-virus protection, but VirusBarrier is now available from the app store. The only firewall app we are aware of is Firewall iP, which requires a jailbroken device to run
  • Linux – AVG Free antivirus and Smoothwall firewall.

TrueCrypt is available for Windows, OSX, Linux, and Android (iOS users are out of luck here), and VPN Watcher (free version available) is a VPN kill switch for Windows, OSX, Android and iOS.

For more software suggestions, plus lots of information about protecting your privacy when online, check our Ultimate Privacy Guide.

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