NBC’s claims that it was hacked in Russia are false, says expert

7 Feb 2014

After the American TV network NBC claimed it had proof Russia was hacking journalists attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a number of hacking experts have refuted the claim as misleading.

Earlier this week, NBC reported (video) that its journalist Richard Engel had proof that hackers were targeting journalists’ data from all the devices they used to report from the Games.

In the report, Engel went to a restaurant in Moscow, more than 1,600 km away from Sochi, and claimed that within minutes of his and his crew’s arrival and gaining access to the restaurant’s Wi-Fi, a notification appeared indicating there was a file being downloaded onto his smartphone which contained harmful malware designed to access data that he had placed as a test.

Engel and the computer expert he had on the report with him claimed the hacker would now not only have access to his data, but also be able to listen in on his phone calls and anything else on his smartphone.

‘100pc fraudulent’

However, a post by Robert Graham, an expert in cybersecurity, has claimed the entire report was ‘100pc fraudulent’, claiming Engel downloaded the malware after he initiated the download himself.

Graham refutes the claim that merely setting foot in Russia will see people’s accounts hacked.

To emphasise the point, Graham lays the blame squarely at the feet of Engel himself: “Absolutely 0pc of the story was about turning on a computer and connecting to a Sochi network. One hundred per cent of the story was about visiting websites remotely. Thus, the claim of the story that you’ll get hacked immediately upon turning on your computers is fraudulent. The only thing that can be confirmed by the story is ‘don’t let Richard Engel borrow your phone’.”

Graham went on to say he would give Engel the same advice he would anyone searching online: “Don’t click on stuff; patch your stuff (browser, Flash, PDF); get rid of the really bad stuff (Oracle’s Java); don’t click on stuff; oh, and if you really are in Sochi, use VPN over the public Wi-Fi.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic