“To prove you are not spies, we require your source code”, Russia tells Apple and SAP
A Russian minister proposed that the tech giants reveal their source code to the Russian government according to a release from Russia’s Ministry of Communications and Mass Media.
From Russia with code
Last Friday, Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov met with Apple’s general manager in Russia, Peter Engrob Nielsen, and SAP’s Russian MD, Vyacheslav Orekhov, reportedly to discuss privacy protection for Russian users.
“One of the key issues on the agenda of the meetings was to ensure users’ rights to privacy of their personal data and personal information, and information security for government agencies and corporate clients,” said the Russian statement (courtesy of Google translate).
Nikiforov then cited the revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of the NSA spying activities on foreign governments.
“The revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013 and public statements of US intelligence to strengthen surveillance of Russia in 2014 raised the question seriously the confidence of foreign software and hardware,” said Nikiforov. “It is obvious that those companies that disclose the source code of their programs, are not hiding anything, but those who do not intend to cooperate with Russia on this issue may have undeclared capabilities in their products.”
He then warned that the any government contracts for Apple or SAP software would be “uncertain” if they did not comply.
Nikiforov pointed out that since 2003 Microsoft has shared the source code for its Windows operating system and other products with Atlas, the Russian technology institution that reports to the communications ministry.
“This cooperation program allows Russian specialists to quickly learn new software version for the presence in them of undeclared capabilities and quickly prepare them for certification for use in circuits protected information systems,” said the Russian press release.
It is not clear at this stage how Apple or SAP intend to respond to the Russian proposal.
The demand to see the source code of any software belonging to a commercial organisation is a very big ask indeed. An organisation’s proprietary source code tends to be one of its most closely guarded secrets, unless of course the company has adopted an open source stance.
It should be noted that Russia is not alone in its concern about foreign (i.e. western hardware or software) products being used for potentially sensitive work. Last year it was revealed that the Kremlin’s Federal Guard Service (FSO) had opted for paper-based communications when they ordered 20 Triumph Adler TWAIN 180 typewriters.
The Russian decision to revert to paper for printing confidential documents was to avoid damaging leaks associated with using computers.
But other developing nations have also voiced their concern at doing business with American companies.
The German government for example, recently cancelled a contract with the US telecoms giant Verizon Communications, owing to concerns about the spying activities of NSA.
In May Cisco chief executive John Chambers wrote to US President Barack Obama warning that the surveillance activities of the US government were undermining the confidence of export customers in the security of US-made technology.
Meanwhile the Chinese government is reportedly pressuring its domestic banks to replace high-end IBM servers with similar equipment manufactured within the country, as part of a national security review.
China recently said it will vet technology companies operating in the country, and the China Central Government Procurement Centre has already excluded Windows 8 from a government purchase of energy-efficient computers, a move described by the state-operated Xinhua News Agency as intended to “ensure computer security”.
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