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Russian President Vladimir Putin spies on the action.  (Source: Reuters)
Russian program of surveillance likened to a beefed up verge of the tech the NSA uses to spy on U.S. citizens

Speaking at the Red Square in downtown Moscow, President Vladimir Putin held the torch for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games aloft, proudly proclaiming to world observers that the Olympic village in Sochi, Russia was imbued with the spirit of "openness and friendship".

I. In Soviet Russia the Network Uses You

But the village might be filled with a little something else according to The Guardian, a top British newspaper.  Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) -- the successor to the KGB -- has reportedly engaged in an epic amount of bugging of the Olympic Village's internet and telephone system, according to a dossier by Russian investigative journalists, of which The Guardian obtained a copy.

Reportedly, all telephone calls and all internet communications will be recorded.  And reportedly the FSB has developed special filters to spot "sensitive" words or phrases found in unencrypted emails, webchats, or social media posts.
 
Sochi Olympics
A summer ceremnoy celebrating the upcoming Sochi Games. [Image Source: AP]

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, a pair of Russian investigative reporters, compiled the information.  Both Mr. Soldatov and Ms. Borogan have been interrogated by the FSB for their past reporting, however, Mr. Soldatov at least is protected in part by his powerful father Alexei Soldatov, a Russian businessman who helped set up Russia's modern telecommunications network and today occupies a prominent post at the Moscow State University.

Apparently the clues to this massive spying program came from an open source procurement website -- Zakupki.gov.ru.  The documents detail the use Sorm, an FSB tool for monitoring phone and Wi-Fi networks, to spying on the Olympic Village, which sits in Western Russia along the shores of the Black Sea and near the Caucasus Mountains.

Sochi rendering
An artist's depiction of the Sochi Olympic Village, located on the coast of the Black Sea

Russian politician Mr. Soldatov comments:

Russian authorities want to make sure that every connection and every move made online in Sochi during the Olympics will be absolutely transparent to the secret services of the country.

For example you can use the keyword Navalny [the last name of Alexei Navalny, a top political rival of President Putin], and work out which people in a particular region are using the word Navalny.  Then, those people can be tracked further.

Russia's Sorm surveillance system is undergoing a nation-wide update, amid the expansion of smartphone data networks in Russia, which present a new wrinkle to a government who wants to maintain an ever-watchful eye over its citizensas well as foreign adversaries.  These programs are similar to those that the U.S. government uses to watch over its citizens, in that they employ deep packet inspection of communications (legally) seized from telecoms.  Like the U.S., Russia does not openly admit to spying on its citizens, saying it needs the programs to fight "terrorism" and other criminal activities.

II. Cracking Down on Protests is Reportedly a Key Goal of Program

Indeed, the man put in charge of security at the games is Oleg Syromolotov, a counterintelligence chief who spent most of his career trying to hunt down foreign spies and spying on the U.S. and its allies.

But at a rare public press conference, the FSB's spokesperson Alexei Lavrishchev denied that excessive spying mechanisms were being put in place.  He claims that the British and American governments at the 2012 London Olympics engaged in much more widespread spying, remarking, "There, they even put CCTV cameras in, excuse me for saying it, the toilets.  We are not taking this kind of measure."

Putin
President Putin says foreigners have nothing to worry about. [Image Source: AFP]

Much like in the U.S., a portion of Russian politicians have sought to deny some rights to openly gay individuals.  But unlike in the U.S. where efforts to legislate this religion-based view have been limited to gay marriage bans (which were recently found to be unconstitutional), in Russia anti-homosexuality politicians managed to secure a recent ban on depictions of homosexuality in the media.  This ban led to some high profile apparent protests.  Even common actions, such as a Russian women's sprinting team's tradition of kissing each other after race victories have come under the microscope.

Russian sprinters
Russian sprinters kiss after a victory: a recent ban by Moscow's government forbids homosexuality in the media. [Image Source: Reuters]

Thus one of the reportedly planned applications of the Sorm solution is to watch for signs of possible protests.  

U.S. security officials with the U.S. Department of State have advised that travellers take their batteries out of their phones when not in use so the Russian government can not track you and to only travel with "clean" phones, free of confidential data.  A leaflet from the State Department comments:

Business travellers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities.

Such criticism, while likely valid, may smack of irony in the wake of revelations of unprecedented spying by the U.S. government on its citizens and on foreigners.  Indeed, University of Toronto Professor Ron Deibert an outspoken opponent of government spying and participant in the Sochi investigation, dubbed the upgrades to Sorm "PRISM on steroids".  In other words, the U.S. is worth taking seriously, in part because the U.S. government knows a thing or two about spying on everyone.

Source: The Guardian





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