Officials warn that US travelers to Rio Olympics face hack risk – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON â If Zika, political instability and contaminated water werenât enough, U.S. intelligence officials are warning Americans traveling to the August Olympic Games in Rio and other destinations abroad that proprietaryÂ information stored on electronic devices is at high risk for theft by spies and cyber criminalsÂ who are increasingly targeting global events as troughs rich in valuable intelligence.
Bill Evanina, the nationâs chief counter-intelligence executive, is urging travelers to carryÂ âcleanââ devices, free of potentially valuable archives that could be tapped for economic advantage, personal data or security information.
Just as the Olympics draw the worldâs most talented athletes, Evanina said the games and other internationalÂ events represent a “great playgroundââ for government intelligence services and criminals,Â if only because of the âsheer number of devices.ââ
A little more than a month before the Rio games and in the midst of the summer travel season, the U.S. government is launching a multimedia campaignÂ Wednesday to advise travelers of the increasing threat. The program, “Know the Risk; Raise Your Shield,” warns in part that foreignÂ security services and criminals are tracking visitors’ movements through their mobile phones and are able to control such things as internal microphones remotely, often without the users’Â knowledge.
âWhen you travel abroad, assume that your personal information will be breached,ââ Evanina said.
Though the campaign is aimed at all U.S. travelers abroad, the approaching Olympics, which traditionally draws thousands of U.S. visitors,Â offer a specific focus of concern for authorities.
As part of the U.S. government’s awareness campaign, Evanina, through the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, is advising Americans traveling abroad, regardless of their destinationÂ and purpose, to take a variety of precautions.
â¢ Leave unnecessary devices at home.
â¢Â BackÂ up data on devices in use and leave those copies in secure locations at home.
â¢Â Change passwords at regular intervals during travel and on return.
â¢Â Avoid prolonged sessions on local Wi-Fi networks.
â¢Â Submit company devices for examination on return for presence of malware.
National security agencies raised similar concerns in advance of the 2008 games in China and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, as both countries represent the U.S.’s most aggressive cyber adversaries. Prior to the 2014 Sochi games, for example, the Department of Homeland Security warned that “all communications and files” stored on personal electronic devices were vulnerable to interception.
Brazil, while not considered such an adversary, nevertheless will likely draw intelligence units from other countries and outside criminal elements all seeking to mine the globalÂ event that attracts top government leadersÂ and a constellation of Wall Street and corporate executives, Evanina said.
Ray Mey, a former FBI official who has managed security operations at Olympics in Salt Lake City and Torino, Italy, said thatÂ businesses may be more inclined toÂ bolster their cyber defenses in places like China and Russia, even thoughÂ Rio is expected to be used as anÂ information collection and recruitment opportunity.
“Major sponsor corporations use the Olympics as a platform to invite guests and to discuss business collaboration,” Mey said. “The hotels are bugged and high-level executives are targeted for compromise.”
Michael Vatis, a former FBI cybersecurity official, said that itÂ is increasingly common for Americans to take âcleanâ laptops or other personal devices with them abroad to avoid the espionage risk.
“Companies and individuals are definitely more aware of the risk when it comes to traveling to countries such as China or Russia, and so business travelers are more apt to take clean devices when visiting those countries as opposed to, say, the (United Kingdom)Â or Germany,” he said.Â “But other companiesâ policies more generally require the use of clean devices on any foreign trip, in recognition that even U.S. allies engage in industrial espionage against U.S. companies.”