Russian Telcos ‘Using Foreign Tech’ To Comply With Surveillance Laws

Russian telecoms companies are relying on equipment from foreign companies to implement far-reaching data-storage laws introduced two years ago, in spite of the law’s original intent to, in part, boost local high-tech industries.

The state-approved integrators designing the systems for the implementation of Russia’s so-called Yarovaya laws are in most cases using foreign equipment to handle the data, Reuters reported, citing two highly placed industry figures.

Norsi-Trans, one of the companies implementing the data-gathering systems for telecoms companies, said equipment from foreign firms such as Huawei was being used, in part because the necessary large-scale Russian-made equipment was still at the testing stage.

“As far as I know, others producers of… (the technology) mainly use foreign solutions,” said Norsi-Trans director-general Sergei Ovchinnikov.

Foreign tech

An unnamed senior manager at a Russian telecoms operator also said Russia doesn’t have the capacity to produce the needed storage equipment on a large scale.

Systems providers such as Norsi-Trans and competitor Citadel, which are approved by the FSB security services for the task at hand, are of necessity using equipment made by Cisco, HPE and Huawei, Reuters said.

Those firms declined to comment on the matter, and no Russian telecoms company was willing to provide more information on the record.

The Yarovaya national security laws require operators to store the contents of voice calls, data, images and text messages for six months and their metadata for three years.

When they were introduced in 2016 Russian president Vladimir Putin told ministers the laws were intended to “fill up the order books of our own firms”, although the use of Russian technology is not legally required.

No operator yet has the required infrastructure in place for so massive a task, in spite of a 1 July implementation deadline, according to Reuters.

Russia’s quandary reflects that of other countries seeking to reduce their dependence on imported technologies.

Those countries, which include the United States, have found it difficult to extract themselves from the tech industry’s heavy dependence upon international trade.


Ironically, one of the main exporters of essential telecommunications equipment is Huawei, which was originally formed in the late 1980s in response to China’s then near-total dependence upon imported communications gear.

The US’ efforts to bolster domestic telecoms technology companies such as Qualcomm have been designed, in part, to prevent Huawei, ZTE and other large Chinese firms operating in the same area from gaining a competitive edge in areas such as 5G.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is one of the security services that have warned of the risks of using foreign-supplied infrastructure on a large scale.

In April NCSC director Ian Levy said hardware from suppliers such as ZTE and Huawei posed a “risk of external interference”.

Citing the already broad use of Huawei equipment in the UK, Levy said the introduction of gear from another Chinese supplier, such as ZTE, “would render our existing mitigations ineffective”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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