Symantec refuses Russian Federation request for source code access

Reuters

Reuters

Russian authorities are asking Western tech companies to allow them to review source code for security products such as firewalls, anti-virus applications and software containing encryption before permitting the products to be imported and sold in the country.

Symantec decided that while it did not believe that Russian Federation had attempted to hack its products, "the protection of our customer base was more important that pursuing an increased market share in Russian Federation". Some requests are also generated by the FSTEC, the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control, which is responsible for protecting the government from cyberattacks and managing state secrets.

Russian Federation isn't the only country that makes these sorts of requests, however.

The practice is common, both in the US and also in China, which has had a dispute with iPhone-maker Apple and was also allowed access to source code by IBM.

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and MacAfee have reportedly allowed the Russian government source code reviews of their products as well. Only 13 tech products were reviewed by FSTEC in a 17-year period ending in 2013.

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. One executive, who has partnerships with most of the vendors mentioned in the report and did not want to be named, was eager to learn more about the precautions companies were likely to take in security reviews.

But Symantec officials decided the lab "didn't meet our bar" for independence.

These facilities, however, did not fulfil security requirements for Symantec.

In 2016, the company decided it would no longer use third parties, including Echelon, that have ties to a foreign state or get most of their revenue from government-mandated security testing.

"As a result, we do minimal business there".

Markov declined to comment on Symantec's decision, citing a non-disclosure agreement with the company.

The company refused to allow the review, thus disqualifying it from selling business products in Russian Federation.

But in at least one case - that of IBM, the FSTEC posted documents claiming the testing was done at a firm located 20 miles outside of Moscow.

SAP allows Russian Federation to review and test source code in a secure SAP facility in Germany, according to a person familiar with the process.

Cisco has recently allowed Russian Federation to review source code, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But Reuters also says that Russian Federation may be looking for vulnerabilities in these products that could be used against Western targets in future hacks.

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