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To Merrillville or Sochi: How Dangerous is it to travel?

Published: 2014-02-05
Last Updated: 2014-02-05 13:54:11 UTC
by Johannes Ullrich (Version: 1)
7 comment(s)

Our reader Rodney sent us a link to a story that apparently aired on NBC Nightly News last night:

"I was wondering if someone could do a piece on the report that was on NBC's Nightly News last night (see link below) regarding connecting personal devices like smart phones and laptops to the Internet while in Sochi for the Olympics. The first video leaves out some details that the second video reveals. The first video aired on NBC, the second did not. It seems as if the first video was sensationalism. The second video revealed that the journalist had willingly clicked on links to download the malware. The first video made it look like they only had to connect to become infected. I know that it can happen, but they made it sound like it will definitely happen."

The first video [1] shows how a brand new computer is infected while connected to the a hotel network in Russia. "If they fire up their phone at baggage claim, it is too late" the announcer states to introduce the story. The reporter then states that his Android Phone was hacked almost immediately hacked "before we even finished our coffee". It then states that the two computers at the hotel where hacked as well "very quickly". 


A second video ("Open Hunting Season for Hackers" Same URL as earlier video) clarifies things a bit. The journalist clicked on a link. However, the link does appear to have been somewhat targeted as it came to him addressing him as a journalist and promised leads for a story. We don't know if there where additional warning signs.

There was also a brief twitter exchange about this story with Kyle Wilhoit, the security expert in the story:

first tweet about nbcnightlynews

kyle wilhoit response

So in short, it was not "uninitiated".

How dangerous is it to travel?

The report states that there is no expectation of privacy. I think this is a good assumption to go with no matter where and how you use the Internet. Many privacy rules are just that: Rules. To actually have privacy, you may need to go a step further and put technical controls in place. We covered travel security before, but here some of the main points:

- Patch before you go, not while on the road.
- Use a VPN whenever possible
- Use anti-malware / personal firewalls
- Don't leave your computer unattended
- encrypt your disks
- Power down your system if you have to leave it in your room and setup a BIOS/Firmware password.
- use hotel safes / lock down cables if you don't have another choice (yes, they can get broken into easily. But it is even easier to take a system that is not in the safe)
- if you have a choice, a wired connection is a tiny bit more secure then WiFi.

(also see the April 2011 edition of Ouch )

Will you get hacked "automatically as you have a coffee"? Who knows. But if, it may as well happen while you have the coffee at home. The risk isn't as much the location as a recent breach of PoS systems in hotels from Chicago to Merrillville shows. [2] . One of the great things about the internet is that distance doesn't really matter that much. Russian hackers can get to you while you (and they?) are in there PJs no matter where.

In the end, I am not sure if "TV magic" is the right way to educate users about the risks.



Johannes B. Ullrich, Ph.D.
SANS Technology Institute

7 comment(s)
ISC StormCast for Wednesday, February 5th 2014


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