Rio Olympics pose security risks to travelers

Physical safety isn't the only thing that travelers need to worry about at the Rio Olympics -- security experts warn that travelers need to be extremely careful when they access computer networks, as well

Police officers held up a sign saying "Welcome to Hell" at the Rio airport last week, according to local and international news reports, and the region's acting governor warned of a total collapse in public security. More funding is on its way, but it might not be enough to make a difference in time for the Olympic games. Meanwhile, physical safety isn't the only thing that travelers need to worry about -- security experts warn that travelers need to be extremely careful when they access computer networks, as well.

"The Rio situation is a mess," said Shaun Murphy, CEO at communication security firm PrivateGiant. "I would suspect that from a cyber security front, it's going to be just as messy."

And the Olympics will be a particularly attractive target for cyber criminals, he added.

"At the big events, when you have a lot of high net worth people, dignitaries, heads of state, and company executives, the value for the hackers is enormous," he said. "You can go out there and capture a thousand, two thousand credentials a day. It's extremely valuable."

For business travelers connecting back to their company systems, a virtual private network is the first order of business, he said.

And there are also low-cost VPN services for personal, use, as well. Read related story here.

Business VPNs create a secure, encrypted communication pipe from the user's computer directly to their company's servers, while personal VPNs have the other end of the pipe open into the public internet in, say, a U.S. city. Either way, the VPN pipe offers a secure channel through risky local hotel and coffee shop Wi-Fi networks and past any filters run by local carriers or governments.

Shaun Murphy, CEO at communication security firm PrivateGiant

"Business travelers should always be using a VPN and there are many reputable vendors offering solutions," said Israel Barak, CISO and incident response director at security vendor Cybereason

But having a VPN in place doesn't mean that users can stop worrying about security, Murphy said.

"VPNs are not a silver bullet," he said. "They protect against a lot of things, but there's still stuff leaked by VPNs."

For example, there's a short gap between the time a device connects to the Internet and the VPN's protections kick in.

He warned travelers to be careful about connecting to Wi-Fi networks, especially those with no passwords, those that generate a warning message that says they're insecure, or those whose passwords are written on signs for everyone to see.

A criminal could put a small Wi-Fi access point behind a planter, or run it from their laptop. And the password on the wall could have been taped up there by anyone, Murphy said.

He also recommended using Passpoint-certified Wi-Fi providers when possible. This is a standard backed by the Wi-Fi Alilance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance, and supported by Boingo, iPass, and other Wi-Fi providers.

Internet cafes in and around stadiums and hotels are particularly risky, said Barak. "Hackers target these locations regularly because of a high rate of unsuspecting users being in these locations."

Another potential threat is mobile apps that leak data, said Yaniv Sulkes, AVP of marketing at network security vendor Allot Communications. Businesses should educate their employees about how to minimize these risks. There are also network-based and cloud-based tools available that can help companies control these apps.

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Maria Korolov

CSO (US)
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