Risk
4/11/2011
05:18 PM
50%
50%

Russia Reverses Plan To Ban Encrypted Web Services

The head of the Federal Security Service labels Gmail, Skype, and their ilk as a "threat to Russia's security."

How do you say about-face in Russian?

On Saturday, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the country's main successor to the Soviet-era KGB (Russia's former secret police and intelligence agency), announced that it wanted to ban Skype, Gmail, Hotmail, and other types of Web mail that utilize encryption.

In a release made via Russia's official news agency, Itar-Tass, the head of the FSB's information and special communication center, Alexander Andreyechkin, said that "uncontrollable use of such services can create a major threat to Russia's security." Rather than tolerating foreign encryption algorithms, which are difficult or impossible for the FSB to crack, the agency recommended blocking them entirely.

Many governments would chalk up such an unpopular viewpoint to having been a personal opinion, but officials said that he was speaking for his agency. "FSB representatives don't express personal points of view. Naturally, that was the position of the agency," said Dmitry Peskov, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's press secretary, according to the Itar-Tass release. But he also clarified that the view had been expressed in a government meeting in which agencies shared their viewpoints, and which had largely been held behind closed doors.

Soon after, however, Igor Shchyogolev, who heads the Russian Ministry of Communications, contradicted the FSB, telling Itar-Tass that while the government wanted to regulate such foreign services, it had no intention of blocking them. Confusingly, members of Andreyechkin's own agency then began commenting that the FSB was only interested in regulating the online services, not banning them, according to The Moscow Times.

In fact, said the newspaper, the FSB's statement had apparently escalated into a dispute between Putin and Russian president Medevev--who's nominally in charge of the FSB--that ultimately led to the FSB backtracking. The emphasis is on "apparent" because Putin, who's seen as the person wielding the most power in Russia, and Medevev, his hand-picked successor, typically choreograph any statements they make in public.

Accordingly, the statement by the FSB could merely be a feint designed to make such companies as Google and Microsoft give up their encryption algorithms. In that case, Russia would be taking a page from the recent campaign waged by multiple countries, including India and United Arab Emirates, to force BlackBerry maker RIM to provide government agencies with access to BlackBerry email servers.

"The countries that threatened a ban on Blackberry use reached an agreement with RIM, the Blackberry manufacturer, that allowed usage to continue uninterrupted, details of this compromise have never been revealed," said Rik Ferguson, director of security research & communication at Trend Micro, in a blog post.

Where do technology companies stand in relation to Russian authorities? Microsoft said it's willing to cooperate with authorities. Likewise, a Google official told The Moscow Times that it would cooperate, but noted that the FSB hadn't ever submitted a request for information about Google users. Contrast that with authorities in the United States, which submitted 4,287 data requests last year, according to the Google Transparency Report.

If improving Russia's security by finding criminals or terrorists is the FSB's primary concern, then why hasn't it ever queried Google for information on specific users?

For now, the next step in Russia is a committee. According to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, a working group will create policies for using "cryptographic tools in public communications networks," delivering its proposals by October 1, 2011. But only state agencies--and national telecommunications provider Rostelecom--will be involved. The committee will be chaired by Putin.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-8802
Published: 2015-01-23
The Pie Register plugin before 2.0.14 for WordPress does not properly restrict access to certain functions in pie-register.php, which allows remote attackers to (1) add a user by uploading a crafted CSV file or (2) activate a user account via a verifyit action.

CVE-2014-9623
Published: 2015-01-23
OpenStack Glance 2014.2.x through 2014.2.1, 2014.1.3, and earlier allows remote authenticated users to bypass the storage quote and cause a denial of service (disk consumption) by deleting an image in the saving state.

CVE-2014-9638
Published: 2015-01-23
oggenc in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (divide-by-zero error and crash) via a WAV file with the number of channels set to zero.

CVE-2014-9639
Published: 2015-01-23
Integer overflow in oggenc in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (crash) via a crafted number of channels in a WAV file, which triggers an out-of-bounds memory access.

CVE-2014-9640
Published: 2015-01-23
oggenc/oggenc.c in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (out-of-bounds read) via a crafted raw file.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
If you’re a security professional, you’ve probably been asked many questions about the December attack on Sony. On Jan. 21 at 1pm eastern, you can join a special, one-hour Dark Reading Radio discussion devoted to the Sony hack and the issues that may arise from it.