SAFETY ADVISORY: Sochi, Russia as at 21/01/14

The Russian city of Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games from 7 February to 13 February. The Paralympic games begin on 7 March and run until 16 March.

The government is reportedly spending $2 billion on security for Sochi. It has mobilised tens of thousands of troops and security officials and have created a 1,500-mile security area around the venues. The move is a bid to prevent infiltration by terrorists; several bomb attacks have taken place in the region in the past few months.

The International News Safety Institute is issuing the following security advisory for journalists planning to cover the Winter Olympics.

Background information

Insurgency in the North Caucasus 

The threat of an attack by Islamist insurgents is high. In June last year, Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov, called on insurgents to “do everything possible” to prevent the Winter Olympics from happening.

Earlier this month there was a car bombing in the Stavropol territory, 150 miles from where the Games are taking place. In December, twin explosions killed more than 30 people in Volgograd.

Whereas security is extremely tight in and around the Olympic venues, targets are likely to open up elsewhere as security forces are diverted to Sochi.

It is essential to have contingency plans to take a security incident into consideration. Conduct a thorough risk assessment and ensure that your team has several meeting points if an incident does happen.


The Games will take place in two venues – a main coastal cluster, home to the Central Olympic (Fisht) Stadium and other facilities including the main media centre; and a mountain cluster with a smaller media centre. They are linked by a 29 high speed railway and road.

Sources on the ground have reported that road traffic accidents are common and there is a lack of proficient emergency services in and around Sochi. It is vital that you are self sufficient and are skilled in first aid and have good communications.

Journalists must be accredited in order to access the venues and Olympic villages.

All cars have to be registered, so you may have to rely on taxis to get around.

Security checkpoints have been set up around the area. It is vital to be patient with security forces, particularly as they may not speak your language. The checkpoints are likely to add time to your journey to and from the venues so ensure you factor this in to your schedule.

Tight security means that it may be difficult to get supplies in and out of the Olympic clusters. Laptops and phones may be examined by security personnel. Ensure that there is no sensitive information on these devices. Importing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may also be problematic but can be done with the correct paperwork.

If there is a lockdown journalists will have to be self-sufficient for food, and water. Ensure you have enough provisions for all eventualities.

Winter games are always cold, to state the obvious. Do not underestimate the wind chill factor and ensure you are prepared for the extremes of this region.

INSI has issued advice for working in the cold. You may like to read this prior to travel to ensure you have the right equipment and clothing.  

State surveillance

Journalists should be aware of state surveillance and should assume that all of their information can be intercepted by the authorities. Be conservative with your online behaviour.

The Russian system for internet surveillance, SORM, and cybercrime are a risk to a journalist’s personal digital information, putting confidential sources and other information at risk.

Precautionary measures should be taken before deployment.


Consider taking a clean laptop with you to ensure that sensitive information is not compromised

Encrypt your communications i.e. email with Pretty Good Protection (PGP) program, or chat with Pidgin with Off The Record (OTR) plugin.

The open source Tor network provides protection against traffic analysis but it has been reported that it cannot prevent traffic confirmation, or secure end to end encryption.

Mail encryption should be used as a precautionary measure but be aware that this will be problematic if the computer is corrupted at the source.

Journalists should be aware of the dangers of malware (malicious software i.e. a virus) and phishing (attempts to acquire sensitive information i.e. usernames and passwords via malicious links). Be wary of clicking untrusted links or opening attachments from unknown sources. Do not access your online banking from Russia.

A secure government grade (i.e. AES 256bt) encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Network), such as SaltVPN, will allow encrypted data to be relayed back to bureaus when using free Wi-Fi hotspots or 3G networks.

Mobile communications

Basic tips to protect mobile phone communications:

• Use the keypad lock (but do not use obvious codes i.e. 0000 or 1234 as pass codes)

• Keep a note of your mobile phone’s unique 15-digit IMEI number (usually printed on the phone’s battery. If your phone is stolen, the IMEI number helps the mobile service provider block the phone)

• Don’t click on links in SMS or emails on your mobile to avoid viruses. Ensure that your phone is running on the latest version of the operating system. Consider downloading an antivirus app for your phone.

• Keep your mobile phone updated and backed up

• Do not leave important data on your smart phone

• Do not enter passwords or do financial transactions on public Wi-Fi

• Set up remote wipe and device location capabilities

Consider taking an unlocked phone and purchasing a new local SIM card for the duration of the event.

Encrypted SMS applications, such as Cody, will allow for secure communications via text.

Read INSI’s safety advisory for digital and mobile security here. 

Some of this information was kindly provided by security company Cadre Consultants.

Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist journalists covering the Sochi Winter Olympics and are not meant to be negative in nature. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems as a result of this advice.

A check-point leading up to the Olympic venues in the Olympics Park in Sochi, Russia. Russia began implementing stringent security measures Tuesday Jan. 7, 2014 in its southern resort of Sochi, one month before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics there. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)