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Cell phones of Russian officials to be protected from eavesdropping

Russian senior civil servants will soon be obliged to use only those mobile telephones that are protected from tapping, as follows from a bill submitted to the parliament. Earlier, President Vladimir Putin urged the country's security services to enhance the protection of national information resources and communication lines.

The Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said the first deputy chairman of the State Duma's Industry Committee, Vladimir Gutenev, on Tuesday presented a bill which requires all federal civil servants, employees of state-run corporations and companies to refrain from using any mobile communication devices while performing their office duties unless those means had been certified as complying with information security requirements.

The legislators started discussing that idea long ago - many have had reasons to doubt the full confidentiality of their cell phone conversations. However, they decided to deal with the problem in earnest after stunning revelations by Edward Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

The legislators launched a probe into the threats unprotected mobile gadgets may be fraught with to promptly find out that the abuse of confidentiality of information transmitted - telephone conversations, sms and personal data - was far from being the sole risk. An unprotected cell phone is extremely vulnerable to hackers, who may get into the device's memory that stores contacts and other sensitive information, remotely control its functions and spot the user's location.

The bill proposes a ban on the use of any cell phones that have not been certified in Russia. Not only federal civil servants and employees of state corporations, but also State Duma and Federation Council members and Accounts Chamber auditors will have to comply.

An information security adviser to the Federation Council speaker, Ruslan Gattarov, has described the bill as an unambiguously correct initiative. Gattarov, the Chelyabinsk Region's deputy governor, believes that the authors of the bill should also offer a practical solution. The required gadgets of Russian manufacture are still unavailable, while purchasing a special coding device, and a special cell phone for verbal communication would be very costly. "If civil servants wake up tomorrow morning to face harsh restrictions on the gadgets they are allowed to use, the effectiveness of communication and of their work will dwindle," Gattarov said.

"Russia does produce programs that can be installed practically on any device," argues the director of the company Telecomdaily, Denis Kuskov. "There are special algorithms of coding information," the expert explains. "The latter is rewritten with the use of a special code that makes it hard to process. It's a never-ending war between software developers and hackers."

The first smart phone to have been developed inside Russia - YotaPhone - hit the market late last year. YotaPhone was manufactured by a Russian company. The project was entirely Russian-financed. To a large extent, it is a product of Russian engineers. Experts have been saying it is the most Russian of all smart phones being manufactured under domestic brands. But all of the components inside the smart phone are of foreign manufacture and the model itself is assembled in Singapore.

Earlier this year, it was announced that YotaPhone will be authorized for use by secret service personnel in combination with the ViPNet technology (an information protection system). This solution will be not a default option but a custom-ordered one.

In February 2014 the State Duma was asked to consider a bill stipulating that Russian companies and organizations will be prohibited from purchasing foreign equipment if its Russian counterparts are available. Back in 2010 the government issued a resolution saying domestically manufactured telecommunications equipment should enjoy priority in implementing national communication projects. It was just a recommendation, though.

Several days ago import substitution plans in the IT sphere were discussed at a conference of Russian defence-industrial enterprises.

As he addressed the board of the federal security service FSB on April 7, President Putin asked the specialists concerned to enhance the protection of national information resources and communication lines. "As we know, and as the whole world knows, in the modern world those eager to eavesdrop somebody else's secrets are in abundance," Putin said.

Britain's Government Communication Headquarters and the US National Security Agency will have the capability to put every single person on the globe under surveillance in the near future, Julian Assange told an international conference in Austin just recently. "The ability to spy on everyone on the planet is almost there, and arguably will be there in a few years," Assange remarked.

[Source: Itar Tass, Moscow, 09Apr14]

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