That of Ukraine could be the first major war in Europe for more than 70 years, since the Second World War. At present, it stands out for another peculiarity, well defined despite the fact that the Russian troops began their offensive a little more than 72 hours ago: the strategic role technology will play. Before the launch of the tanks on the Donbass, the country recorded cyberattacks, and the role of the networks has already caused a clash between Moscow and Facebook. Aware of this scenario, Ukraine decided to punish Russia: it asked the United States, among other retaliation, to cut off its country’s software updates.
The problem? That Moscow takes time bet on free software.
The government of Volodímir Zelenski has drawn up a list of 14 measures with which it proposes that the United States put pressure on Moscow. His proposals go beyond export controls or the expulsion of Kremlin ambassadors. Kiev has asked the Joe Biden administration to directly ban American companies that provide and update software “in the interests of Russian consumers.” The memorandum calls for the hardware and software tap to be cut off from the oil, gas, coal, mining and nuclear power sectors.
More than ten years in the hunt for “cyber-sovereignty”
The request is not free. The United States is home to some of the big tech, many of which are software vendors. Without updates, their systems could not be updated and this would prevent them from protecting their users’ data. This happens with Windows, for example, one of the most widely used operating systems. Whenever the company releases a new version, it warns – remember Genbetta – that the old ones no longer have protection and support. No updates, systems without security patches would be easier to hack.
Ukraine’s proposal does not catch Russia off guard. The truth is that Moscow has been promoting the use of open source software in the country for just over a decade. In 2010, the government of Vladimir Putin put forward a plan for the implementation of free software, including Linux, on government computers. As detailed then from the federation, their plans were to develop their own license and complete the migration process in less than five years, by 2015.
In mid-2019, amid the ‘Huwaei affair’ controversy, Russia’s intention to follow in China’s footsteps and change Windows as the operating system on its military computers was also raised. revealed. Its replacement: Astra Linux, an exclusive distribution of the open source system. In this sense, the Duma, the main legislative chamber of the country, approved at the end of the same year a bill requiring that from July 2020 it be preinstalled software developed in Russia in devices marketed in the country. The measure has been proposed for a wide list of devices, from smartphones and PCs, to tablets or even smart TVs.
“The majority [de los dispositivos electrónicos complejos] include pre-installed software, mostly western […]. If, along with this, we also start offering Russian software to users, we will give them the right to choose,” one of its promoters said at the time.
In this context, cybersecurity experts such as Dmitry Alperovitch wonder if Ukraine’s proposal can be effective. Speaking to Vice, he explained, for example, how he is likely to push the Russian government “further” towards open source. Others, like Lukasz Olejnik, point out that it could be effective and would generate “long-term consequences”; but he warns: “Russia has long develop their cyber-sovereignty given this risk.
For now, US sanctions against Russia will limit Russia’s access to foreign technology.
Through | Genbeta
Cover image | GovernmentZA (Flickr)