If you had a bone to pick with NBC’s Sochi Device Hacking article we mentioned last week, you’re not alone. Folks on Reddit, YCombinator, and the Errata Security [1,2] blog were skeptical at the distinct lack of sources and technical information present in the report and, after investigating the news segment closer, noted that Engel had willingly disabled many device security precautions in order to expose his devices to malware.
Says Errata’s Robert Graham,
I had expected the story to be about the situation with WiFi in Sochi, such as man-in-the-middle attacks inserting the Blackhole toolkit into web pages exploiting the latest Flash 0day. But the story was nothing of the sort.Instead, the hacking in the story was due to the hostility of Olympic themed websites. The only increased danger from being in Russia is geolocation. Google uses your IP address to increase the of rank local sites, so you’ll see more dodgy Russian sites in the results. You can disable this feature in your Google account settings.
- Richard Engel had to first disable the security settings that would block unknown hostile Android apps, something few users do.
- The Google search engine downranks hostile sites, making them hard to find. It’s extraordinarily unlikely Richard Engel would’ve found a virus on his own without being fed specific search terms or a URL.
An NBC spokesperson responded to these accusations in a statement to Business Insider, stating that,
“of course,” this type of cyber attack could happen anywhere. “But the point we were demonstrating is that a user is more likely to be targeted by hackers while conducting search in Russia, and that such attacks happen with alarming speed from the moment a user goes online.”
NBC said the story was designed to show how easily a non-expert could fall victim to a hack. “Just like any regular user, Richard went online, searched sites and was very quickly targeted and received a tailored fake message designed to trick him into downloading the software.”
Many users commented about the report, most decrying it as nothing more than fear mongering laced with anti-Russian sentiments.
The longer version of the report referenced in the above quote, can be found here, however the security expert featured in the video, Kyle Wilhoit, stated on Twitter that much of the context and technical details have been cut out of NBC’s report.
At the end of the day, NBC’s report wasn’t 100% wrong – the threat of phishing is real, and malware doesn’t particularly care where in the world someone is, nor what device they’re using. If nothing else, we can take away from this that Sochi networks probably aren’t the hacker’s delight they were purported to be, but that browsing from elsewhere in the world isn’t particularly malware-free, either. In this day and age, every user – no matter the device, whether consumer or enterprise – needs to develop safe browsing habits and recognize the signs of phishing attempts and compromised web activity.