Major sporting events are always popular with businesses.
The 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia promises to be no exception. The corporate sponsorship opportunities on offer are an ideal way to entertain influential decision-makers of important customers and prospects.
Set against this are recent reports of Russia’s tough new internet censorship laws – set to come into effect from November 1, 2017.
The move is a security concern for Western company executives anxious that employees and VIPs visiting the event may be unable to prevent sensitive information being exposed to Russia’s extensive surveillance network.
The good news is that the new regulation only blocks access to web services and online information that are outlawed already and does not extend to personal or legitimate business Virtual Private Network (VPN) use. With a corporate VPN and some simple guidelines it should be possible for visiting executives to conduct business over the Internet securely during World Cup 2018.
Sporting Events and Internet Politics
Russia has long enjoyed a dubious reputation with respect to the Web. Along with China, Iraq and numerous other repressive regimes, Russia is one of those countries most closely associated with Internet hacking and surveillance.
For example, Symantec claims Russian-linked hackers have successfully penetrated power grid networks in the US and Europe while Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs recently warned how covert cyber-warfare by Russian state-sponsored hackers may soon result in loss of life if they manage to disable essential systems or leave hospitals without power.
Privacy Campaigner Criticism
President Putin’s tough stance on web VPN services has been condemned by prominent industry figures.
For example, Edward Snowden, former NSA whistleblower and prominent Internet privacy campaigner, has criticized the clamp-down saying it makes Russia less safe and less free. In a Tweet he adds, “If the next generation is to enjoy the online liberties ours did, innocuous traffic must become truly indistinguishable from the sensitive.”
Freedom House, the independent U.S. human rights watchdog, is also critical, saying laws like this “are widely used as a pretext to block political content, often without judicial oversight.”
Russian VPN Restrictions
Web-based VPN services that fail to comply with the new law will be added to the state blacklist of prohibited websites that every telecoms company and Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Russia is obliged to block.
Many companies provide employees with VPNs to allow them secure remote access to the corporate network.
The new law only relates to illegal web content and does not apply to companies using VPNs for legitimate business purposes.
For business executives visiting Russia, the strict policies and VPN usage constraints may make encrypted communications slightly more complicated.
However, provided visitors remain aware of the purpose and scope of local restrictions this should not prevent them connecting remotely via VPN in the normal way.
Maintaining a Secure Defense
In general, it should be possible for visitors to Russia for World Cup 2018 to communicate securely with company networks back home provided they take a few basic, common-sense precautions as follows:
- Don’t store sensitive corporate data on devices – Before traveling, check there is no sensitive corporate data stored on any of the devices you take with you. Any confidential data you might need to access while away should remain on the corporate network or stored in encrypted format in the cloud.
- Only connect to the corporate network when you need to – During your stay, always use a corporate VPN to connect to company resources, only connect when you have to and never send anything confidential when you do.
- Multi-factor authentication – If possible, ensure corporate resources require two or three authentication processes to be completed before they can be accessed remotely
- Employee awareness – It is important to always train employees on the best security methods to use when travelling along with the local risks of doing business in certain countries.
In summary, news that Russia is implementing a new law that dramatically increases internet surveillance and restricts VPN services has set alarm bells ringing for company executives contemplating corporate sponsorship activities during World Cup 2018.
The new legislation, however, is limited to banned online encryption services and does not apply to the corporate VPNs of legitimate business.
Equipped with a corporate VPN and following a few common-sense safety precautions, employees and VIPs visiting Russia for the World Cup should find there is nothing to prevent them from remotely connecting securely to corporate resources.