US counter-intelligence chief warns World Cup tourists about Russia: leave your phone at home or take out the battery

Travellers have been told that they risk being hacked by the Russian government or cyber criminals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 3:00pm

The top US counter-intelligence official is advising Americans travelling to Russia for football’s World Cup beginning this week that they should not take electronic devices because they are likely to be hacked by criminals or the Russian government.

In a statement on Tuesday, William Evanina, an FBI agent and the director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Centre, warned World Cup travellers that even if they think they are insignificant, hackers could still target them.

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
William Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Centre

“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.”

Evanina’s warning comes as US intelligence, law enforcement and congressional officials are still investigating Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone with President Donald Trump’s campaign was aware of or aided it. Trump has repeatedly denied there was any collusion and Russia has said it did not meddle in the US election.

Another US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said British security agencies have issued similar warnings to the British public and the England football team, which is competing for the World Cup.

In a statement, Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said it was “providing expert cybersecurity advice to the (UK) Football Association ahead of their departure to Russia for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.”

The NCSC, a branch of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency, also issued a warning to the public.

Private cybersecurity expert Patrick Wardle said the official warnings constituted “really good advice. When I travel to Russia, I bring ‘burner’ devices, so if they get hacked, it doesn’t really matter.”

A burner device is typically bought for temporary use, then thrown away.

US agencies have issued similar warnings before other major international sporting events, including the recent Winter Olympics in Seoul.