Journalists covering the Sochi Winter Olympics will have their telephone and Internet access monitored by the Russian security services, warns the European Federation of Journalists. This is how to keep your activities to yourself.
Wi-Fi provided at the games will be monitored. The 3G phone network will be monitored. Computers at the Media Center will be monitored. Under a decree signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the FSB security service can collect the telephone and Internet data of the Games’ organizers, athletes and others, with particular emphasis on journalists.
Before You Go
Clear out all your devices, removing personal details and contacts, and replace the SD card in your phone. Store anything sensitive on a spare card or USB drive.
Install open-source anti-spyware and anti-malware on all devices. For Android users, AVG Mobilation is a free app that protects against viruses, malware and spyware. It also identifies unsecure device settings; ensures contacts, bookmarks and text messages are secure; checks media files for malicious software and security threats; guards against phishing; and offers anti-theft protection. Lookout protects iOS and Android devices from unsecure Wi-Fi networks, malicious apps, fraudulent links, etc.
As soon as you arrive at the airport, they may want to take your digital devices away for inspection. Generally, you should never let your mobile devices out of your sight and this includes leaving them unattended in hotel rooms. It is very easy to scan the memory or plant malware inside.
With laptops and tablets, place a sticker over any opening parts so you can see if the device has been tampered with. Better still, apply a coating of glitter nail polish and then take a photo of it with your smartphone. The glitter in the polish provides a unique pattern that cannot be replicated and which can later be compared to the photo. Additionally, be sure to thoroughly run an anti-spyware program on the device as soon as possible after recovery.
As soon as they have your details, they will begin tracking you around the venue. To avoid this, turn off Geotagging and GPS location and switch on Airplane Mode. This will make their job harder. If you are meeting anybody, and would rather they didn’t know, remove the battery from your phone because they can still listen in even when it’s turned off. If you have an iPhone and can’t take the battery out, leave it behind – but not anywhere they can find it.
If they are handing out free sim cards, be sure to bring along an older, non-smart phone and install the card in that. Use this phone to receive updates and calls from the Games’ organizers.
And be careful of the messages you receive on your regular smartphone. Never open attachments or click on links if you are suspicious. To avoid infection via email, disable HTML in your email program via the Settings tab. Be aware of social media posts and emails with enticing links, many of which are often shortened so you don’t know where you are heading. Short URLs can be enlarged at LongURL.org.
When connecting to the MegaFon 3G network or Wi-Fi, employ a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to prevent tracking and to mask your activities from eavesdroppers. Hotspot Shield is a good, free option which also allows you to view banned content and access Twitter and Facebook mobile if their services are blocked locally. A popular and fast paid-for option is VrprVPN.
- Put a security code on your devices in addition to the SIM code and engage the auto-locking feature.
- Add an HTTPS enforcer to your browser, such as HTTPS Finder or HTTPS Everywhere, to safeguard your browsing.
- Disable network connections and switch off bridging connections. Do not broadcast the Bluetooth device name and disable automated peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connections.
- Avoid connecting personal devices to other computers. And be very cautious of free charging points.
- Watch for unauthorized billing, unusual text messages, rapidly-depleting battery and unexpected warmth of the device.
Mobile Apps worth Installing
Scramble Calls —Silent Phone for Android and iOS provides HD quality securely-encrypted phone/video communication over any network. A free alternative is Jitsi, an open-source encrypted VoIP service for audio/video and chat that works on any operating system.
Secret Messenger — Secret SMS for iOS will encrypt messages between users and hide them. Perzo is a new encrypted messaging system for all devices from the people who brought you Skype. There is also TextSecure for Android.
Secret Image — Secret Video Recorder Pro for Android and iOS allows you to seemingly switch off the smartphone while continuing to film. Secret Camera for iOS allows you to take photos discretely with no shutter sound, preview or immediate playback, while the Mobile Hidden Camera does the same for Android. ReconBot for Android and iOS is a stealth video recorder that displays a black screen while it records and includes remote view so you can watch the recording live via a web link.
Remove Image Data — if you want to upload images that cannot be traced back, you need to remove or alter the EXIF data which most modern cameras implant in the image to give GPS location and other details. Options for Android include the ExifEraser and ExifRemover for iOS.
At the Media Center
If accessing the computers at the Media Center, take extra care. A safer way to use these computers is via a USB thumb drive installed with the Tor-Firefox browser that will take you directly onto the Deep Web and mask your activities and communications from anyone listening in.
A dialogue box to the drive will open as soon as the device is slipped into a computer. Select Start Tor Browser and you will leave no helpful trace of your web journey on the machine and no one should be able to track you. If you need to bypass administration restrictions, install FreeOTFE Explorer on the USB drive and you should be able to get into most machines.
Notepad Portable Text Editor — Notepad text editor with support for multiple languages.
VLC Media Player Portable — portable version of the popular VLC player.
IrfanView Portable — graphic viewer for Windows. View pictures, vector graphics, animated images, movies, icon files, etc.
GIMP Portable — Windows image editor.
Sumatra PDF Portable — lightweight PDF viewer.
Eraser Portable — securely delete files and data.
With the world’s media descending on Sochi, this is a prime opportunity for the FSB to harvest the contacts of journalists along with the passwords and access codes to their news organizations. So be warned.
Alan Pearce is the author of “Deep Web for Journalists: Comms, Counter-Surveillance, Search”. He also teaches cyber-security skills to journalists.