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U.S., British Officials Warn World Cup Fans Could Be Hacked In Russia

U.S. and British intelligence officials are warning soccer fans traveling to Russia for the World Cup that their cell phones and computers could be hacked by cyberspies.

William Evanina, Director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said on June 13 that in Russia, even people who believe they are unimportant can be targeted by hackers.

"Anyone traveling to Russia to attend the World Cup should be clear-eyed about the cyber risks involved," Evanina said in a statement.

"If you're planning on taking a mobile phone, laptop, PDA, or other electronic device with you -- make no mistake -- any data on those devices (especially your personally identifiable information) may be accessed by the Russian government or cyber criminals," he said.

Evanina is in charge of the agency that assesses and counters the threat to the United States from foreign espionage and cyberspying. He said that people attending the World Cup, which begins on June 14, should leave behind any devices they can do without.

For devices people take with them, they should remove the battery when it is not in use, he said.

"Corporate and government officials are most at risk, but don't assume you're too insignificant to be targeted," he said.

Reuters quoted another anonymous U.S. official as saying that British security agencies have issued similar warnings to the British public and the English soccer team, which is competing for the World Cup.

Britain's National Cyber Security Center said in a statement that it is "providing expert cybersecurity advice to the U.K. Football Association ahead of their departure to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup."

A branch of Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, London's electronic eavesdropping agency, also issued a warning to the public.

Private cybersecurity expert Patrick Wardle told Reuters that the official warnings are "really good advice. When I travel to Russia, I bring 'burner' devices, so if they get hacked, it doesn't really matter."

A burner device is typically bought for temporary use, then thrown away.

U.S. agencies have issued similar warnings before other major international sporting events, including the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, which took place close to the border with North Korea.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters