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Fraud Alert: NBC Sochi hack report is fake, says security expert

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The frightening NBC report featuring Robert Engels, a journalist who reported that his smartphone and two computers were hacked in Sochi, is allegedly a fake. Errata Security's Robert Graham wrote a blog post calling the NBC story "wrong in every respect."

Graham accuses Engels of faking the report and intentionally downloading applications that would ensure that his smartphone was hacked almost immediately. Initially, Graham was intrigued by the story, but once he started to look into it, he realized that something was wrong.

"I had expected the story to be about the situation with WiFi in Sochi, such as man-in-the-middle attacks inserting the Blackhole toolkit into web pages exploiting the latest Flash 0day," Graham wrote. "But the story was nothing of the sort." 

Graham had several problems with the NBC story, including the following issues he listed in his blog post:

"The story shows Richard Engel "getting hacked" while in a cafe in Russia. It is wrong in every salient detail.

  1. They aren't in Sochi, but in Moscow, 1007 miles away.
  2. The "hack" happens because of the websites they visit (Olympic themed websites), not their physical location. The results would've been the same in America.
  3. The phone didn't "get" hacked; Richard Engel initiated the download of a hostile Android app onto his phone.
  4. ...and in order to download the Android app, Engel had to disable a lock that prevents such downloads -- something few users do [update]."

Graham argued that NBC exaggerated the danger of being hacked in Sochi.

"Absolutely 0% of the story was about turning on a computer and connecting to a Sochi network. 100% of the story was about visiting websites remotely," Graham wrote. "Thus, the claim of the story that you'll get hacked immediately upon turning on your computers is fraudulent." 

For its part, NBC denied the allegations, stating that the report clearly indicated that the video was filmed in Moscow. NBC claimed that the story was not intended to scare people or convince them that they were absolutely going to get hacked in Sochi, but rather to show how easy it is to be hacked in Russia.

"The claims made on the blog are completely without merit," said a representative from NBC News.

Regardless of whether NBC's hacking story was exaggerated or simply false, it is a fact that tourists are at risk from hackers at the Sochi Olympics. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks will still be a problem, security experts said.

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