The Russian government is considering new measures to prevent the usage of imported software and electronics, in order to prevent the risk of personal data theft. Mirroring similar initiatives in the United States and China, orders are being placed with Russian software and electronics companies that may replace the need for foreign products. As Russia is not well-known for its robust technology manufacturing sector, it may have to endure some growing pains as part of this new strategy. The move also raises fresh questions about paranoia induced protectionism as increasingly wired products are distrusted by trading partners.
The Russian economy is already suffering from from the low price of oil and will therefore likely not see a sweeping embargo on western goods. Such a move would also lead to fines from the World Trade Organization (WTO) yet the the Russian government will likely require that state employees, privy to sensitive information, refrain from using foreign made devices.
Russian Parliament member Ruslan Gattarov has advocated for the ban saying, “There are allegations by various experts that information contained on some Western smartphones could be available to their manufacturers, who can then transmit this information to intelligence agencies in their home countries. In addition, this information can be stolen by foreign commercial companies for illegal gain.”
Critics of the idea state that a ban would prevent usage of iOS devices, considered one of the safest by leading Russian IT security analysts. An additional problem stems from the fact that most Russian electronics are 90 percent reliant on foreign parts.
The dilemma echoes the U.S. vulnerability to Chinese-made hardware with built-in “backdoors,” which allow outside tampering. Such components are present in military applications, nuclear power plants, and public transport and could be abused to result in a Stuxnet-like attack.
Aside from the Stuxnet attack on Iran, high-profile cyberattacks such as the recent one on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management seem to be the new normal.
Russia was implicated in a recent cyberattack on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff email system, which followed a previous Pentagon attack this year into an unclassified defense computer network. The United States considers such attacks as a legitimate reason to start a war, but any retaliation for such behavior by China and Russia has been restricted to electronic counter-attacks, the precise type that the Russian technology ban would seek to address.