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Microsoft to cooperate with Russian Security Service?

13.06.2011    source:
Following statements from the head of the Russian Microsoft office that he’d be happy to divulge Skype encryption codes to the FSB and then embarrassed denials, Andrei Soldatov warns that the FSB has no intention of backing down and wants full access

The Head of the Russian Microsoft office has said that he’d be happy to share the encryption code of newly acquired Skype with Russia’s security services. Nikolai Pryanishnikov made the comments on 8 June following the news at the beginning of May that Microsoft has bought skype.  He went on to say that Microsoft’s general position in Russia is one of “cooperation and partnership with the government”. He added that Microsoft had previously provided the FSB [Security Service] with encryption codes for its products.

By the next day the company denied that it was willing to provide the FSB with encryption codes for the Internet telephone service. It circulated a letter saying that what was at question was initial codes for its products not the encryption algorithms. At present encrypted information on Skype protects conversations from being tapped.

As reported , the FSB has already shown an unhealthy interest in Skype, Gmail and Hotmail for the same reasons that they are preferred by all those, including dissidents, who do not want  their communications tapped.  In April the head of the FSB Centre for Information Protection and Special Communications, Alexander Andreyechkin said that “the problem of using general cryptographic encryption – first and foremost, of foreign origin – in the networks has caused increasing concern for the FSB”, and said that Gmail, Hotmail and Skype were of particular concern.  Then as now there was outcry and denials.  Specialist on security service activists Andrei Soldatov warns that people were premature in relaxing after the FSB in April said that they had been misunderstood and that they had no intention of banning anything.

He says that the FSB have not backed down and their position was in fact formed back in the 1990s.  It is quite simple: there should be no products or means of communication which do not enable interception. The main weapon for putting pressure on companies is the system of licensing and certification.

This approach worked while the Security Service dealt with the telecommunications market.  He notes that foreign companies were also happy to cooperate in order to have access to a lucrative market. This was what Microsoft did in 2003 revealing its initial codes on products in exchange for access to the public procurement market.  If companies don’t want to divulge their codes, they risk being blocked access to the market.  This was what happened in 2005-2007 with the FSB procrastinating with providing permits for sale of Blackberry smartphones. In the end, MTC which was the outlet in Russia for the phones agreed to provide the possibility of investigative activities, i.e. tapping etc.

The problem with Gmail, Hotmail and Skype is that they are free and there is no sale of the actual products, and it’s not clear how to force the owners of the systems, Google, Ebay and Microsoft, respectively, to reveal their technology to the FSB.  Soldatov points out that Google’s statement that it is ready to cooperate and consider requests from the Russian Security Service is not the point. The FSB do not want to sent requests, they want constant access and with remote access.

Soldatov suggests that the FSB have not considered one point, which is that Medvedev who is trying to improve his image in Washington has no desire at present to flaunt any initiatives pertaining to Internet freedom. 

On the other hand, he warns, nobody is seriously suggesting correcting the Security Service strategy and domestic legislation has already been brought into line to enable back-door approaches to such control.  “The Russian market is sufficiently important for all three corporations to enable the FSB to count on agreeing with Google, eBay and Microsoft and gaining access to their encryption systems.

From information on the Internet and the article by Andrei Soldatov at:

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