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Prism vs Sorm: Internet and the war of the Big Brothers

While the revelations of Snowden open new fronts of Datagate for USA, interesting details emerge on electronic intelligence system of Russia. Different lenses but a common risk, you need to stop now.

The recent revelations in The Guardian on surveillance measures adopted by Russia to ensure the safety of the Winter Olympics in Sochi reminiscent of the spy systems used by the National Security Agency (NSA) U.S..

Systems revealed by Edward Snowden, who, irony of history, has found its temporary political asylum in Moscow. A closer analysis, however, emerge 2 different geopolitical conceptions on Internet surveillance at the base of the apparatus of U.S. and Russian electronic intelligence respectively.

If the U.S. has the ambition to put under control the whole system of global communication, coming to spy on the communication flows within individual countries (the latest revelations concern France and Mexico), Russia has apparently more modest goals , especially the aim to control its own population and those of the states to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union – the so-called “near abroad.”

This does not mean that Moscow has tools to electronically spy on other areas of the world , from satellites to the listening stations, and the use of sophisticated hacking systems, but these are not the scope of those used NSA – you can count on English-speaking allies that also allow you to have access to intercontinental transmission systems, we think only the system Tempora British – and perhaps even than the Chinese. [1]

The American strategy has two flywheels, seemingly contradictory but actually complement each other perfectly: the global surveillance of communications and the promotion of freedom of the Net [The author of this article has talked at length about here ]

Washington in fact supports the use of new media and social networks from the opponents of anti-Western regimes or otherwise considered opponents or no longer useful to the American strategy, see Mubarak’s Egypt. To this end, the U.S. government is one of the major funders of the program Tor, which allows navigation “safe” on the Internet escaping the surveillance systems used by Member dictatorial. Of course, the NSA has created (apparently with a partial success) the procedures to spy on those who use Tor, because this program can be used by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals.

In front of the American offensive (both on the spy, and on that of soft power ) Putin’s Russia plays in the defensive, such as trying to “gag” bloggers who oppose the Kremlin or promoting one cyberspace under close supervision, shared with the successor states to the former Soviet Union.

At the center of Russian strategy is the Sorm system (System of measures of operational research), whose original building was designed with the mid-eighties by a research institute of the then KGB. The system was recovered FSB (Federal Security Service, successor to the Second Central Directorate of the KGB, who was in charge of counterintelligence and security within the Soviet Union) and update it continuously.

Thus there are at least 3 versions of the system: Sorm-1 for the interception of fixed and mobile phones; Sorm-2 for the surveillance of the Internet; Sorm-3 that collects information from all forms of communication that are stored for a long period of time. Among the information collected there are both content (recordings of telephone conversations, text messages, email) and metadata (time, duration and location of the call or connection, etc..).

Telephone operators and Internet service providers (ISPs) Russians are required by law to install at its own expense in their routers and servers monitoring equipment, connected via secure connections with the nearest office of the FSB. On October 21, the Russian press also reported that a draft of an order of the Ministry of Communications provides that ISPs should keep for 12 hours Internet traffic of their customers (including email and the activities of the social network ), allowing direct access without a warrant in safety devices.

Described as a “Prism on steroids” because of its invasiveness – due to the techniques of deep packet inspection that allow you to filter the content of Internet connections and VoIP – Sorm, however, is focused on the Russian and Central Asian. The very fact that the FSB is managed and not SVR(foreign intelligence service, the heir of the First Central Directorate of the KGB) seems to indicate that it is more than an instrument of internal control that is not a global espionage system as those used by the NSA and brought to light by the revelations of Snowden.

It is clear that foreigners have to be connected to the Russian networks via their smartphone, laptop, etc.. would be prime targets of surveillance in Moscow. And it is for this reason that the U.S. authorities on the occasion of the Games in Sochi have published a number of recommendations, addressed to its own citizens, in order to try to avoid interception by the FSB.

Sorm-3 has also been exported to countries that emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine (where you installed a more invasive procedure that allows the interruption of telephone conversations in real time) to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan to Belarus. These states have adopted systems of surveillance of communications more or less derived from the Russian Sorm, provided by companies linked FSB. In 2012, the national telephone company in Belarus Beltelecom announced that it had installed the system Sorm in its network equipment according to the website www.agentura.ru would be provided largely by the Russian company Digiton.

Another Russian company, Iskratel, has instead updated Sorm Ukrainian controlled dall’Sbu (Ukrainian Security Service) and the Oniks-Line Signatek of Moscow and Novosibirsk have provided electronic eavesdropping equipment to the security of Kyrgyzstan . In the latter case, Russian companies have beaten the competition by Israeli Verint, one of the giants of the global industry, in turn, suspected by some to be a powerful “trojan horse” Israeli intelligence, which would thus have access to communications networks of several countries, for more for free.

Of course the FSB – which is delegated cooperation with the former Soviet countries but also their surveillance, while the SVR takes care of the rest of the world – are exploiting the ties that have occurred to increase its influence in the “dell ‘ near abroad. ” A recent scandal that saw the publication of some important phone calls from Kyrgyz politicians is traced back to intelligence in Moscow, which exploited the possibility of access to the local telephone network obtained thanks to special backdoor inserted in the systems supplied by Russian companies.

The so-called “Arab Spring” led to a strengthening of cooperation in this field between the states of the former Soviet space, in particular in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), whose members include Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which brings together Russia, China and 4 “Stan” Central Asian former Soviet Union, most other countries with the status of “observer”.

Moscow will not only provide surveillance technology to its partners but will take stock together with them a strategy to counter the smart power that exploits the American desire for more democratic openings of the population of the former Soviet space to increase its influence in the area a more or less peaceful and indirect.

Several U.S. foundations (Ned-National Endowment for Democracy and agencies attached to it) does not miss a chance to encourage and assist protest movements that make use of modern communication tools, primarily the social network . Here then is that Russia seeks to promote a common defense strategy in the space formerly Soviet (in collaboration where possible with other countries, such as China) to counter the activities of opponents through the new media.

For Moscow and allies cyberdefense is not only to protect against cyber attacks of their infrastructure (telecommunication networks and electrical, banks, etc …), but above all protection “psychological” of people from the “negative influence” of blogs and social networks used by opponents.

The risk is to create a sort of gigantic “intranet” within the space CSTO and maybe tomorrow expanded to some Brics to transform the Internet into a set of fragmented networks, controlled by Big Brother on duty. One possibility perhaps rare, but the revelations of the NSA spying on Snowden have provided new arguments to those who dispute the current governance of the Internet , for better or worse dominated by Washington.

To avoid “chopping” of the Grid is becoming increasingly urgent international agreement regulating the governance of the Internet; need a gentlemen’s agreement on electronic eavesdropping on cyberwarfare and contrast of illegal activities via the Internet.


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