Attended the Rugby World Cup? Now Is the Time to Digitally Disinfect Your Smartphone
Posted: November 1, 2015 / Author: Dror Liwer
Few experiences unite people from around the world as indiscriminately as the Rugby World Cup. Perhaps because like all major sporting events, it’s the ultimate shared experience capable of turning people with very little in common into comrades. Thanks to technology and social media, fans can share their thoughts and reactions in real-time as try-by-try commentary. More than just passive spectators, fans are now active participants in their own game which plays out online one hashtag at a time. The only drawback is that many are unaware of the host of cybersecurity risks this could expose them to. The 2015 World Cup organizers invested heavily in equipping the different stadiums with dedicated Wi-FI, this was insufficient. Not only were there many reports of Wi-Fi outages, but the infrastructure was in no way sufficient to cope with the over 2,000,000 smartphone-dependent attendees (82,000 per game in Twickenham). That’s where public Wi-Fi networks come in. While these networks may be risky, for many attendees at this year’s Rugby World Cup they soon become a necessary and non-negotiable lifeline. Regardless of the risk involved, these unsecure networks have enabled enthusiastic rugby fans to share their experience and selfies while still keeping an eye on the ball.
The ‘Smarter’ Rugby Experience
A study of smartphone habits at this year’s Rugby World Cup found that fans watching a match at a stadium use their smartphones on average 7 times throughout the day, of which 44% use their phone during the first or second half. On the other hand, fans watching the game on TV used their smartphones less than those watching live at a stadium, but 52% of these stay at home viewers used their smartphones during a match. The same study quoted above found that 48% of rugby fans share rugby-related content of which 56% do so using social media, 42% using text message and 36% using instant message services like WhatsApp. Furthermore, fans tend to consume most of their rugby-related content (47% of it) on social media with a further 34% doing so via email. What’s interesting about these findings is that they show that due to the advent of technology, a fan’s experience of a rugby match has evolved from simply watching a game to being actively engaged. But this ‘smarter’ rugby experience comes with its own set of risks. [Tweet "Think you connected to a safe #Wifi network when you were at the Rugby WC? Think again"]
No Free Lunches or Wi-Fi in Life
Leading up to the World Cup kick off there were several promising initiatives to make the 11 host cities as connected as possible. The most successful of which was a project launched in the city of Gloucester to bring free and safe Wi-Fi to the city center. This network extends across the city and was even made available at Kingsholm Stadium, which hosted many matches including Tonga vs Georgia and Scotland vs Japan, among others. The WiFi at this venue was so good that journalists even tweeted about it.The sad reality, however, is that Gloucester is the exception to the rule. It seems most of the World Cup venues lack reliable WiFi. The Olympic Stadium, for example, which hosted the first World Cup match was criticized for its lack of Wi-Fi with many irate fans turning to Twitter to vent their frustration. Many of the rugby fans at the Olympic Stadium expressed a combination of disappointment and surprise at the limited connectivity:While some Wi-Fi networks may be more reliable than others, there’s really no such thing as secure Wi-Fi. Of course, some networks are easier to hack than others, but it’s worth remembering that there’s no such thing as 100% safe.
Paying a Penalty for Connectivity
Stadiums which offer free Wi-Fi often do so under a fallacy of security. After all one of the biggest misconceptions at events like the World Cup, is that if the Wi-Fi has been provided it must be secure. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As it turns out, a venue like a rugby stadium is a hotbed for hackers and other malicious activity that can compromise a user’s smartphone. One study found that the Wi-Fi at the some of most popular tourist destinations in the world including Times Square, Notre Dame Cathedral and Disneyland Park can easily be hacked. These attacks tend to be hard to detect, and most commonly involve SSL decryption which enables a hacker to capture any sensitive data on a device. The scary thing is that it’s enough to have wireless turned on without actively connecting to a specific network. Your device will then automatically try connecting to any Wi-Fi networks in the area, opening the backdoor to hackers. This becomes particularly problematic at a event like the World Cup where the Wi-Fi being supplied in most stadiums is unreliable or nonexistent. Rugby fans are left with no choice but to connect to an unsecure network outside the stadium, if their smartphones haven’t connected automatically already. While these networks may provide instant access they also expose users to untold risk.
The Connected Experience of Rugby
Just as we’ve accepted that smartphones and social media are now a part of our collective experience of sports like rugby, so too must we come to terms with what it really means to be connected. Of course this doesn’t mean we can’t connect to Wi-Fi. We simply need to exercise caution, and think carefully before connecting. Many companies are adopting new technologies that help mitigate these very risks. For example CoroNet offers a lightweight software that not only detects malicious networks in real-time but prevents devices from connecting to hotspots that have been compromised. Unlike other solutions, CoroNet goes beyond the computing layer to provide protection at the radio layer.What next? Well, if you were lucky enough to attend the World Cup, now might be a good time to digitally disinfect your smartphone. Here is what Apple recommends if you suspect your phone has been hacked or want to identify the signs of a hack.