If you’re planning on traveling to Russia for the World Cup, you might want to think twice about bringing a personal device, according to William Evanina, an FBI agent and director of the US Counterintelligence and Security Center. That’s because malicious actors (either the Russian government or Russian cybercriminals) will likely be able to access the information stored on your devices – possibly gleaning sensitive personal data like the password to your online banking account.
And Evanina isn’t the only one: Another US official who asked Reuters not to be named confirmed that the UK’s intelligence community – including employees from the British version of the NSA – has issued a similar warning to the UK public, as well as members of England’s football team, according to Reuters.
If you must bring an electronic device like a phone or laptop, consider leaving your personal device at home and bringing a “burner” – that is, a phone or computer that hasn’t been previously used and can be easily disposed of upon return to the US or UK – instead. Importantly, it doesn’t matter who you are: Even if travelers believe they are “relatively insignificant”, they could still be targeted.
The warnings, of course, come as Special Counsel Robert Mueller is trudging ahead with his investigation into purported Russian interference – including hacking – in the 2016 election, and just after his office scrambled to ask a federal judge to prevent lawyers for accused Russian nationals from Concord Management – one of the firms indicted by Mueller – from participating in discovery that could’ve possibly exposed the indictments as political stunts. Earlier this week, the Treasury Department sanctioned another five Russian firms for orchestrating cyberhacks and abetting the country’s intelligence agencies.
“If you’re planning on taking a mobile phone, laptop, PDA, or other electronic device with you – make no mistake – any data on those devices (especially your personally identifiable information) may be accessed by the Russian government or cyber criminals,” he said.
“Corporate and government officials are most at risk, but don’t assume you’re too insignificant to be targeted,” Evanina added. “If you can do without the device, don’t take it. If you must take one, take a different device from your usual one and remove the battery when not in use.”
In a statement, Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said it was “providing expert cyber security advice to the (UK) Football Association ahead of their departure to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.”
Meanwhile, cyber security expert Patrick Wardle said that he follows this advice whenever he travels to Russia: “When I travel to Russia, I bring burner devices, so if they get hacked, it doesn’t really matter.” US agencies have issued similar warnings before other major international sporting events.
Of course, the most secure option would be to simply refuse to attend, an option that several European left-wingers – including a member of Germany’s green party – have urged people to consider.