Russia Is Winning At Pressing Western Tech Firms To Share Cyber-Secrets

Big Western tech firms are giving in to the demand of Russian authorities by allowing them to access their security secrets, reports Reuters. Such firms are often faced with two options – comply with the demand of the authorities or risk losing the lucrative market. Many choose the first option.

Russian authorities
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Russian authorities just want to ensure security?

Such access, according to regulators, is only being asked by Russian authorities to ensure that foreign spy agencies have not implanted any backdoors in the source code. However, current and former U.S. officials and security experts believe such inspection also gives a chance for Russian authorities to find vulnerabilities in the products’ source code, which they can exploit later, notes Reuters.

Several Western tech firms — Cisco, IBM and SAP — have already agreed to such demands from Russian authorities, reports Reuters. However, one U.S. firm objected to and has stopped allowing source code reviews due to security concerns. Symantec told Reuters that the agency carrying out the inspection of its source code was connected to Russian authorities.

It’s not just U.S. firms that are on Russia’s radar. More recently, Russian authorities asked Telegram to share more information about itself. The authorities are threatening to block access to the messaging app if it fails to comply with their demands, notes MacRumors.

In an open letter, the head of communications regulator Roskomnadzor, Alexander Zharov, said, “There is one demand and it is simple: to fill in a form with information on the company that controls Telegram. ….In case of refusal… Telegram shall be blocked in Russia until we receive the needed information.”

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Should Western firms invest in Russia?

Telegram may be facing this issue because it divides its encryption keys among several data centers around the world to make sure that “no single government or block of like-minded countries can intrude on people’s privacy and freedom of expression.” This is not the first time the Telegram founders have received such a threat from regulators, so they probably know how to handle it.

However, Western firms continue to share their security secrets, especially at a time when Russia is facing accusations for carrying out cyber-attacks on the West. On Wednesday, a Homeland Security Department official told Congress that during the 2016 presidential elections, about 21 U.S. state election systems were targeted by Russian hackers. Further, the official said that a small number of systems were breached, although there is no information on if votes were manipulated.

Since last year, Russia has been attracting big investments from Western companies. For instance, Sweden’s IKEA Group is planning to invest $1.6 billion into new stores over the next few years. France’s Leroy Merlin SA is planning to double the number of outlets in Russia in about two years with its €2 billion plan. Mars Inc. is also making further investments to expand its facilities for pet food and chewing gum, while Pfizer is working on a new drug factory, notes Bloomberg. Additionally, Russia is PepsiCo’s third-biggest market after the U.S. and Mexico.

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