U.S. Tech Companies Give Russia Secretive Source Codes To Stay In Multibillion-Dollar Market

RTSXCSD
News of the Dow Jones Industrial average passing 20,000 and the stock price of IBM play on television at a Fidelity Investments office in Cambridge, Massachusetts on January 25. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Several high-profile U.S.-based technology companies are reportedly allowing Russia access to their source codes in order to gain entry or remain in the country's multibillion-dollar market, even while President Vladimir Putin's government faces serious accusations of hacking democratic elections, Reuters reported Friday.

The companies include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, McAfee and CISCO, as well as Germany-based SAP, each of which has used intermediary companies to safely allow source code for their products to be inspected under requirements made by Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB.

The FSB has widely been condemned by the U.S. intelligence community, as well as Putin, for directly meddling in last year's presidential election in order to defame Democrat Hillary Clinton and elevate Republican and President Donald Trump. The agency, which also serves as a regulator for Russia's technology sector, also has been accused of conducting the 2014 hack on Yahoo that resulted in 500 million email accounts penetrated.

Each of the tech companies used an FSB-accredited testing company to have its source code, essentially the lifeblood of advanced systems like computers, examined and approved to hit the Russian market. Last year, the market was valued at $18.4 billion.

However, Symantec claimed one such FSB-approved company, Echelon, "didn't meet our bar" when it came to its "independence" from the FSB, the cyber security company told Reuters.

"In the case of Russia, we decided the protection of our customer base through the deployment of uncompromised security products was more important than pursuing an increase in market share in Russia," a Symantec spokesperson said.

Many of the companies said in separate statements that their code was protected and that precautions were taken, like the use of "clean rooms."

The practice is common in the U.S. and also in China, which had a dispute with iPhone-maker Apple and was also allowed access to source code by IBM. But Russia's recent actions, which the Department of Homeland Security claimed Wednesday had targeted 21 states during last year's election, make one question the country's motives for such source code availability.

In May 2016, it was revealed that China, which is known for blocking its population from large swaths of the internet as well as social media sites like Twitter, had honed in on technology companies selling products on their soil, The New York Times reported.

The Cyberspace Administration of China had set up reviews of tech companies in the months prior to the report, and Apple's general counsel told the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April 2016 that the company had refused the overture.

In October 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM had allowed the Chinese to review some of its product source code in a secure room but also insisted that client data and back doors, or ways to break into a system, are not shared with governments.

But many companies, including IBM and Microsoft, have attempted to fend off China's requests, the Journal reported in December.