The world has turned its attention to the Olympic games in Sochi, but not all this attention is welcome. The gathering of the world's elite winter sportsmen and women and the accompanying hordes of spectators, supporters, enthusiasts, media, diplomats and other VIPs makes Sochi an ideal target for the criminal fraternity. As the FT noted this week, “the US government issued guidance advising American visitors to Sochi to remove all important information from their computers and devices before they travel.”
The Olympics has always been a prime spot for crime: It has unfamiliar surroundings, unusual conventions (such as special arrangements being made as a consequence of the Games), and large crowds to cover up furtive means of directly or indirectly making money.
For many in "the West," these Games are located in a country and culture that was inaccessible for a long time, and shrouded in some degree of secrecy. The levels of concern about being compromised —whether in terms of data, money or safety — are probably higher on this occasion than ever before.
As a British citizen, I can suggest that there is a certain irony to this — for years, the UK (and especially London) has been widely regarded as the "fraud capital of Europe," and yet there was not the same level of concern prior to the London 2012 summer Games. For years, the UK had the highest absolute fraud losses of any European country, as shown in FICO’s fraud map of Europe.
The UK authorities took considerable steps to ensure that our country was prepared for the 2012 Games and the risk of unwanted criminal activity. I blogged on that very topic prior to the event. Clearly the UK preparations stood us in good stead, because the 2012 Olympics went ahead largely without any real hitches.
I suspect that the Russian authorities' preparations have been equally robust, and I hope that the winter Games in Sochi pass without incident. Still, no one attending the Games should feel complacent about their financial security, especially when online, and should be cautious of what they are accessing and information that they are revealing. For example, my fellow blogger Doug Clare has previously warned of the hidden cost of free wi-fi, and this relatively easy attack is just one example of what could be established by criminals in Sochi (or indeed anywhere in the world where a crowd congregates) at low cost and with not much technological savvy.
The Olympics are about taking part, not winning or losing. I urge visitors to take care as well. Enjoy the Games!