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Locks and Security News: your weekly locks and security industry newsletter
7th April 2021 Issue no. 552

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Russian Winter Olympics security: "Prism on steroids"

Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and surveillance in the history of the games, documents show.

Russia's powerful FSB security service plans to ensure that no communication by competitors or spectators goes unmonitored during the event, according to a dossier compiled by a team of Russian investigative journalists looking into preparations for the 2014 Games.

Government procurement documents and tenders from Russian communication companies indicate that newly installed telephone and internet spying capabilities will give the FSB free rein to intercept any telephony or data traffic and even track the use of sensitive words or phrases mentioned in e-mails, webchats and on social media.

The journalists, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, who are experts on the Russian security services, collated dozens of open source documents published on the Zakupki government procurement agency website, as well as public records of government oversight agencies.

They found that major amendments have been made to telephone and Wi-fi networks in the Black Sea resort to ensure extensive and all-permeating monitoring and filtering of all traffic using Sorm, Russia's system for intercepting phone and internet communications.

The Sorm system is being modernised across Russia, but particular attention has been paid to Sochi given the large number of foreign visitors expected next year.

Technical specifications set out by the Russian state telecoms agency also show that a controversial technology known as deep packet inspection, which allows intelligence agencies to filter users by particular keywords, is being installed across Russia's networks, and is required to be compatible with the Sorm system.

"For example you can use the keyword Navalny and work out which people in a particular region are using the word Navalny," says Soldatov, referring to Alexei Navalny, Russia's best-known opposition politician. "Then, those people can be tracked further."

Ron Deibert, a professor at the University of Toronto and director of Citizen Lab, which cooperated with the Sochi research, describes the Sorm amendments as "Prism on steroids", referring to the programme used by the National Security Agency in the US and revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

A leaflet from the US State Department's bureau of diplomatic security warns anyone travelling to the Games to be extremely cautious with communications.

The advice contains an extraordinary list of precautions for visitors who wish to ensure safe communication, such as removing batteries from phones when not in use.

Source: Moscow Guardian

16th October 2013

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