NBC's report about “instant hacking” of laptops and Android phones in Sochi exposed as media hoax
If you are to trust NBC, your privacy concerns while visiting the impending Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics don't end with having to use the now-infamous double toilets. This report, aired in prime time on Feb 4, begins with a statement that American tourists "should have no expectation of privacy, even in their hotel rooms" - those are the actual big, scary words.
It proceeds to show how a MacBook and an Android phone download "malicious malware" the moment they get connected to Russian Wi-Fi; goes on to have a Kaspersky Labs representative confirm (out of context) that Sochi's "huge infrastructure" is a "hacker minefield", and cuts to someone running "specialized hacking software" - a Ubuntu terminal. Suddenly, prime-time TV viewers are sucked into watching one of those laughable 90's "hacker movies", amply garnished with a spoonful of Cold War-era Russian phobia!
As our technology media comrades put it, this report is so misleading that one almost doesn't know where to begin with discussing it. Unfortunately, the computer and media-illiterate people of the general public could easily fall for the nonsense in NBC's news piece. Thankfully, Robert Graham of Errata Security, a collective always willing to disrupt a bogus hacking story and provide an honest perspective on cybersecurity, stepped in with a quick, cold breakdown of the report.
All of what you saw represented as a threat to foreigners who dare browse the Internet in Socchi, is deliberate and "100% fraudulent". The "hacking" in the story boils down to visiting sketchy Olympic-themed websites infected with malware - sites visible from all corners of the world. Moreover, in the report, which is entirely centered on cybersecurity risks present in Sochi, the devices are actually operated in a Moscow cafe - and that's made clear in the very beginning. What is going on? Terrible storytelling is the short answer.
The scene in which the Android phone gets "hacked", is acted out in the same way - by allowing a download of an infected .apk from a malicious Sochi-themed website. This is something any user can do everywhere, willingly, if he's feeling adventurous.
Kyle Wilhoit, the "top American security expert" from the report, is a Trend Micro threat researcher who is being impressively professional about his involvement in the compromised news piece. He took to Twitter and explained that all the editing and TV-magic "got the best of the story". It appears all the important technical discussion was cut away to make an "interesting news report".
The final summation is that NBC tried to engineer a public scare by sweeping the relevant background information under the rug, while presenting the most "impressionable" quotes from security experts out of context. What it ended up doing is a prosaic example of dated media brainwashing.