REPORT: Under Pressure, Western Tech Firms Share Cyber Secrets With Russia

By Joel Schectman, Dustin Volz and Jack Stubbs

Western technology firms, including Cisco, IBM and SAP, are acceding to necessitates by Moscow for access to closely guarded commodity security secrets, at a time when Russia has been accused of growing numbers of cyber attempts on the West, a Reuters investigation has found.

Russian authorities are requesting Western tech companies to allow them to review informant code for the safety concoctions such as firewalls, anti-virus applications and software containing encryption before countenancing the products to be imported and sold in the country. The solicits, which has grown since 2014, are ostensibly done to ensure foreign agent business have not hidden any “backdoors” that would allow them to burrow into Russian systems.

But those inspections too supply the Russians an opportunity to find vulnerabilities in the products’ informant system – rules that control the basic runnings of computer equipment – current and former U.S. officials and security experts said.

While a number of U.S. firms say they are playing ball to preserve their entree to Russia’s huge tech market, at least one U.S. firm, Symantec, told Reuters it has stopped cooperating with different sources code re-examine over security concerns. That halt has not been previously reported.

Symantec said one of the labs inspecting its products was not independent enough from the Russian government.

U.S. officials say they have warned firms about the risks of granting the Russians to review their makes’ root code, because of horrors it could be used in cyber onrushes. But they say they have no legal authority to stop the practice unless information and communication technologies has inhibited armed applications or violates U.S. sanctions.

From their surface, business say they are under pressure to acquiesce to the demands from Russian regulators or risk being shut out of a lucrative market. The companionships say they only tolerate Russia to review their source code in secure facilities that avoid code from being replica or varied.( Graphic on root code refresh process: 2sZudWT)

The necessitates are being make use of Russia’s Federal Security Service( FSB ), which the U.S. authority says took part in the cyber attacks on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential expedition and the 2014 hacker of 500 million Yahoo email histories. The FSB, which has repudiated participation in both such elections and Yahoo hackers, doubleds as a regulator charged with approving the sale of sophisticated engineering produces in Russia.

The examines are also conducted by the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control( FSTEC ), a Russian justification agency tasked with countering cyber espionage and protecting country secrets. Enters published by FSTEC and reviewed by Reuters show that from 1996 to 2013, it conducted source code re-examines as part of approvals for 13 engineering products from Western companionships. In the past three years alone it carried out 28 reviews.

A Kremlin spokesman denoted all questions to the FSB. The FSB did not respond to requests for comment. FSTEC said in a statement that its reviews were in line with international rehearsal. The U.S. State Department declined to comment.

Moscow’s source code entreaties have mushroomed in scope since U.S.-Russia relations went into a tailspin in accordance with the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to eight current and former U.S. officials, four companionship administrations, three U.S. transaction the lawyers and Russian regulatory documents.

In addition to IBM, Cisco and Germany’s SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co and McAfee have also tolerated Russia to conduct source code reviews of their products, according to parties familiar with the companies’ interactions with Moscow and Russian regulatory records.

Until now, little has been known about that regulatory critique process outside of the industry. The FSTEC documents and interviews with those involved in the reviews support a uncommon space into the tense push-and-pull between technology companies and governments in an era of organizing horrify about hacking.

Roszel Thomsen, a lawyer who helps U.S. tech companionships steer Russia import statutes, said here firms must equilibrium the dangers of revealing root system to Russian security services against possible lost sales.

” Some companies do refuse ,” he added.” Others look at the health risks grocery and take the risk .”


If tech houses do reject the FSB’s source code petitions, then approving for their makes can be indefinitely retarded or disavowed outright, U.S. craft the lawyers and U.S. officials supposed. The Russian information technology grocery is expected to be worth $18.4 billion this year, according to market researcher International Data Corporation( IDC ).

Six current and former U.S. officials who have is dealing with fellowships on the issue said they are suspicious about Russia’s reasons for the expanded reviews.

” It’s something we have a real expressed concerns about ,” said a former senior Commerce Department official who had direct knowledge of the interaction between U.S. companies and Russian officials until he left office this year.” You have to ask yourself what it is they are trying to do, and clearly they are trying to look for intelligence they can use to their advantage to exploit, and that’s obviously a real problem .”

However , nothing of the officials who spoke to Reuters could point to specific a few examples of hackers or cyber espionage that were manufactured possible by the review process.

Source code entreaties are not unique to Russia. In the United States, tech firms allow the government to audit generator code in limited instances as part of defense contracts and other feelings government work. China sometimes also requires generator code refreshes as a condition to import commercial-grade application, U.S. commerce attorneys say.


The reviews often takes residence in self-assured facilities known as” clean rooms .” Several of the Russian fellowships that conduct the testing for Western tech companies on behalf of Russian regulators have current or previous links to the Russian military, according to their websites.

Echelon, a Moscow-based engineering measuring companionship, is one of several independent FSB-accredited measuring hubs that Western companies can hire to assistance acquire FSB approval for their products.

Echelon CEO Alexey Markov told Reuters his operators review source system in special laboratories, controlled by the companies, where no software data can be altered or conveyed.

Markov responded Echelon is a private and independent firm but does have a business relationship with Russia’s military and law enforcement authorities.

Echelon’s website touts medals it was awarded in 2013 by Russia’s Ministry of Defense for” protection of state secrets .” The company’s website too sometimes used to refer to Markov as the” Head of Attestation Center of the Ministry of Defense .”

In an email, Markov said that title is exclusively intended to convey Echelon’s role as a certified outside tester of armed technology testing. The medallions were generic and unimportant, he said.

But for Symantec, the lab” didn’t meet our forbid” for sovereignty, remarked spokeswoman Kristen Batch.

” In the case of Russia, we chose the protection provided for in our patron base through the deployment of uncompromised defence makes was more important than prosecuting an increase in market share in Russia ,” enunciated Batch, who added that the company did not feel Russia had tried to hack into its products.

” It poses a risk to the unity of our produces that we are not ready to accept ,” she said.

Without the source code approval, Symantec can no longer get approval to sell some of its business-oriented insurance makes in Russia.” As a arise, we do negligible business there ,” she said.

Markov declined to comment on Symantec’s decision, citing a non-disclosure arrangements with the company.


Over the past year, HP has applied Echelon to allow FSTEC to review source code, according to the agency’s enters. A fellowship spokesman declined to comment.

An IBM spokesman demonstrated the company allows Russia to review its informant code in lock, company-controlled facilities” where strict procedures are followed .”

FSTEC certification records evidenced the Information Security Center, an independent experimenting company based outside Moscow, has re-examine IBM’s source code on behalf of the agency. The corporation was founded more than 20 years ago under the auspices of an institute within Russia’s Ministry of Defense, according to its website. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, McAfee said the Russia code inspects were conducted at” certified testing labs” at company-owned propositions in the United States.

SAP allows Russia to review and test source system in a self-assured SAP facility in Germany, according to person or persons very well known the process. In a company statement, SAP said the review process ensure Russian clients” their SAP software investments are safe and secure .”

Cisco has recently tolerated Russia to review source code, according to person or persons familiar with the matter.

A Cisco spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s interactions with Russian permissions but said the house does sometimes allow regulators to scrutinize small parts of its system in “trusted” independent labs and that the reviews do not settlement the security of its products.

Before letting its consideration of the report, Cisco scrutinizes the code to ensure they are not disclosing vulnerabilities that could be used to hack the products, she said.

( Reporting by Joel Schectman and Dustin Volz in Washington and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Ross Colvin)

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