By Khatuna Mshvidobadze
Copyright © 2012 Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
The Russian Ministry of Defense appears to be openly recruiting cyber experts for both defensive and offensive roles. It is yet unclear whether this indicates resolution of a cyber turf battle among Russian government agencies, particularly between the MoD and the Federal Security Service, the FSB.
On October 7, the Russian MoD announced a tender for research in the field of information security. The competition is open to postgraduate students, research, innovation and manufacturing teams, as well as other citizens of the Russian Federation “with the potential and internal motivation to solve large-scale scientific and engineering problems for the benefit of the Russian armed forces.”
Among the subjects of interest mentioned in the announcement are “methods and means of bypassing anti-virus software and firewalls and protection of networks and operating systems.”
Valery Yashchenko, Deputy Director of the Moscow State University Institute of Information Security, told Kommersant newspaper, “This would be elements of cyber weaponry… they can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes.”
An unnamed source in the Russian military told Kommersant, “With the current size of the armed forces we cannot do without the use of high-tech. This will increase the effectiveness of the troops as well as implement tasks that previously required considerable resources.” The same source also noted that the Russian Defense Ministry began actively to pursue the matter in January, after Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov announced the necessity of readiness for cyber war. Since then, the source continued, the General Staff’s Scientific and Technical Council meets regularly with General Staff specialized units—Radio-Electronic Warfare Forces and the 8th Directorate, responsible for encryption.
This revelation is all the more interesting in light of research presented at the 2011 NATO CyCon in Tallinn by Keir Giles of the Oxford Conflict Studies Research Centre. At the time, Giles presented indications that a Russian military cyber capability may have been growing in the Radio Electronic Troops.
In the same paper, Giles also presented indications that the Russian military’s interest in information warfare was creating friction with the FSB. Back then, the MoD frequently mentioned the phrase “infrastructure protection,” sometimes neglecting to place the adjective “military” before it. This intra-governmental squabble may account for the apparent lack of follow-up to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s March 21 statement that Russia was considering a cyber security command.
However, in September, the Security Council of the Russian Federation released a document assigning critical infrastructure protection to the FSB. If that move also resolved the internecine dispute and cleared the way for at least some MoD involvement in cyber offense, we may soon learn of a military cyber command or other cyber-related administrative developments. Otherwise, expect to see articles from FSB officials and persons close to the FSB challenging the MoD’s latest move.