Russia’s Foreign-Software Approval Service Helps Military Hackers: Report

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

The agency that ostensibly reviews foreign-made wares for vulnerabilities sends the lion’s share straight to its hacker squads.

When international hardware and software vendors come to Russia seeking sales, they must open up their wares for inspection by the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control, or FSTEC, a Russian agency ostensibly set up to warn government and private-sector users about bugs and other vulnerabilities. But a new paper by Western cybersecurity researchers shows that most of these bugs are never revealed to the public. That means that they could be used by Russian military and intelligence services without anyone knowing. The FSTEC is, itself, a military organization that supports counterintelligence and counterespionage operations.

The researchers from Recorded Future, a privately held company based in Massachusetts and Sweden, concluded that just 10 percent of the bugs discovered by FSTEC are eventually released to Russia’s national vulnerabilities database. (Compare that to the United States’ NSA, which ultimately posts some 80 to 90 percent of the bugs it finds to the National Vulnerabilities Database.)

Their report says FSTEC is basically a cover to get foreign companies looking to sell information technology inside Russia to allow the government to poke through those wares for vulnerabilities. The agency releases a fraction of what they find, just enough to be “credible” as a software reviewer.

“FSTEC’s vulnerability database provides a baseline for state information systems and legitimate cover for foreign technology reviews,” notes the report. “According to February 2017 amendments to FSTEC documentation regarding inspection and requirements for state information systems, vulnerabilities in the … database are intended to provide a baseline of security — not a comprehensive vulnerability listing — for state information systems.”

“While Russia’s NVD is highly focused, Recorded Future finds that it is incomplete, slow, and likely intended to support the control of the Russian state over technology companies and users,” a company spokesperson said in a press release.

Perhaps the Russians are simply finding fewer bugs than their American counterparts? No, says the report, noting that in the “experimental” year of 2015, the FSTEC published several times more vulnerabilities than usual. The following year, it returned to the 10-percent average.

The Russian approach differs from the American one, in that the latter discloses most bugs relatively quickly. Even the ones that the NSA holds back as possibly useful get published once the spy agency spots them being discussed on hacker forums.

“We may choose to restrict a vulnerability for offensive purposes,” like breaking into an adversary’s network, Curtis Dukes, the NSA’s former deputy national manager for national security systems, told a think-tank audience in 2016. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not also constantly looking for signs whether or not another nation-state or criminal network has actually found that same vulnerability and now are using it. As soon as we see any indications of that, then that decision immediately flips, and we move to disseminate and remediate.”

Russia watchers note that the Russian government either condones or encourages almost all of the cyber criminal behavior within its borders. That’s significant because Russia is also a lot more likely to exploit actual vulnerabilities that it finds. A 2017paper from researchers at Arizona State University found that when hackers used Russian to discuss a new vulnerability in forums, they would go on to attempt to use that vulnerability to break into someone’s computer 46 percent of the time — compared to 13 percent for hackers speaking English, and 10 percent for hackers speaking Chinese.

The Russian government is about to require foreign firms, and even Russian citizens, to divulge even more cyber information. On July 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new program “to develop a system of the automated exchange of information on threats in the digital space,” he said. “Such solutions should increase the efficiency of the corresponding operational agencies to respond to such threats, and for this purpose it is important to create the relevant legal conditions and ensure convenient forms of interaction between citizens and state structures.”

Read that to mean: new mandates for companies and civilians to share more data with the government.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.