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Russian Officials Dump iPads For Samsung Tablets Over Spy Fears 198

Posted by timothy
from the putin-actually-invented-it dept.
wiredmikey writes: "Russian government officials have swapped their iPads for Samsung tablets to ensure tighter security, the telecoms minister told news agencies on Wednesday. Journalists spotted that ministers at a cabinet meeting were no longer using Apple tablets, and minister Nikolai Nikiforov confirmed the changeover "took place not so long ago." He said the ministers' new Samsungs were "specially protected devices that can be used to work with confidential information." This isn't the first time Russian powers have had concerns over mobile. In August 2012, Russia unveiled a prototype tablet with its own "almost Android" mobile OS that has the remarkably familiar feel of an Android but with bolstered encryption. In an even more paranoid move, this past July a Russian state service in charge of safeguarding Kremlin communications was looking to purchase an array of old-fashioned typewriters to prevent leaks from computer hardware."
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Russian Officials Dump iPads For Samsung Tablets Over Spy Fears

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  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:21PM (#46594159)
    What are the odds that someone high up has a company that offers expensive software to protect Android from spies and makes a ton from this?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Probably the same as the odds that their fears about their old tablets being exploitable were completely justified.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Stan92057 (737634)
      But..why should we trust them? we already know if its made by an American company the US government will force them to make a hole....or... collect the data for the Government? Just saying... And lets say an Mexico software company made the software what guarantees the Mexican government didn't force the company to collect data, for the Mexican Government??
      • by rtb61 (674572)

        This all pointing to the concept that all essential tech infrastructure should be locally produced in secured and audited facilities. Any time you import any essential tech infrastructure you leave that infrastructure at the mercy of the source location and it's vested interests. Including and not limited too espionage, industrial espionage, financial espionage and insider trading, targets for criminal extortion, political extortion, attacks upon democratic structures, gross wholesale privacy invasion for

    • by citizenr (871508)

      smaller than the odds of NSA having remote logins to every ipad on the Kremlin.

    • More likely, this is a purely populist gesture. People in Russia have been making fun of Medvedev's use of iPhone and iPad for a long time now, especially as it was seen as him trying to fit the positive stereotypes of the more liberal, "hipster" demographics. Now that same connection between liberals and Apple products is being played in reverse - "I'm a patriot! I don't use iPad!".

    • Or waht if someone in Russia with knowledge of how the US conducts its spying told them something to make them suspicious of Apple products?

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        Most likely they interrogated Snowden on the issue and got all his source materials.

    • the spies-and-lies folks routinely read carbon IBM ribbons. they could also identify many keystrokes from the sound if they knew what typewriter was being used.

      everything can be spied on. everything.

  • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:21PM (#46594161)

    iPads use YOU!

  • Paranoia? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FuegoFuerte (247200) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:23PM (#46594193)

    Just because they're paranoid doesn't mean we aren't out to get them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by siddesu (698447)
      They aren't paranoid enough then. It is hard to see how using a Samsung device with Google instead of an Apple tablet and iOS is making them safer from spying.
      • by PRMan (959735)
        Do the words "open source" mean anything to you?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by chihowa (366380) *

          The software delivered on Samsung tablets isn't entirely open source, either. Anyway, iOS is built on Darwin (among many other open source components), which is open source, too.

          None of Google's non-OS apps, including the Play Store, are open source. The words "open source" are not a complete explanation of this situation.

          • None of Google's non-OS apps, including the Play Store, are open source. The words "open source" are not a complete explanation of this situation.

            How about the fact that the devices are "specially protected devices that can be used to work with confidential information," as stated in the summary?

            The "paranoia" about the iPad probably comes from (a) it's American which means that the NSA has it's hooks in it and (b) the device is closed off so that you can't see anything that anything is doing. That's fine for my Mom...

            • by chihowa (366380) *

              So how does "specially protected devices that can be used to work with confidential information" translate to "open source"? Products with that many qualifiers tend to be extremely proprietary.

              As to the paranoia, the Android in question was designed by a very close US ally and runs an OS designed by a US company. I wouldn't rule out the presence of "hooks" in their devices.

    • Just because they're paranoid doesn't mean we aren't out to get them.

      Just because they're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get us. Crimea was only the first, and unlikely to be the last.

      I think it is also a bit early to have much sympathy for the new would-be overlords.

  • But it sounds like jumping from the frying pan into the fire by moving to Android, unless they rewrite all the Android code themselves with the help of Russia's equivalent of the NSA.

    • by confused one (671304) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:30PM (#46594261)
      But they can do this... Whereas with the iPad they have to take Apple's word for it. This may be the limitation that drove them to Android and Samsung
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Except they have to take now Google and Samsung's word for it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So.. Why would you trust Samsung over Apple? Samsung is a Koren Chaebol, the largest of 5 companies that contol 90% of the SK economy. They pretty much own the SK Govt. Samsung also has a history of gaping security holes.. Baked right in to their custom ARM cpus. (Ask the cyanogen devs what they think of Samsung's SoCs.. But put in earplugs first.)

        This has nothing to do with security and everything to do with Putin's extremely aggressive propaganda. This non-story and the only reason you see it is because i

        • by imikem (767509)

          For mod points...

          When are people going to understand that these giant companies will ALL sell you, or their own grandmothers, if it will make them $UNIT_OF_CURRENCY. Or if their buddies at $GOVT_AGENCY ask nicely.

          Excuse me, someone's knocking at th

        • by hondo77 (324058)

          So.. Why would you trust Samsung over Apple?

          Because the nice Samsung people payoff the right Russians better than the ones at Apple?

        • by mspohr (589790)

          It is about security.
          I don't trust closed source.
          With open source, I can trust and verify.

      • But even if they rewrite all the software, can they trust the hardware itself? Modern devices are more than a single processor, a lot of sub-components have their own microcontrollers, etc.

      • But they can do this... Whereas with the iPad they have to take Apple's word for it. This may be the limitation that drove them to Android and Samsung

        I'm not sure I'd trust any tablet handed to me by Putin's government, regardless of the OS that came on it. They may be secured against the US, but I'd bet there is a healthy amount of domestic spying going on in Russia.

    • Globalization (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:43PM (#46594361)

      The iPad: The OS Designed in America, Built in China shipped worldwide.
      Samsung Tablet: The OS Designed in America, Built in China and shipped world wide.

      The only difference is which CEO gets the Cut The one in America or the one in Korea.

      NSA to Apple: Add spying to your OS or you will not be allowed to sell it world wide.
      NSA to Google: Add spying to your OS or you will not be allowed to sell it world wide.
      NSA to Samsung: Insure the spying features in your OS are not disabled unless you will not be allowed to sell in the US.

      • Re:Globalization (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @02:11PM (#46594613) Homepage

        Russia is upset about the NSA and the US + EU's reaction to them taking over the Crimea.
        China is upset about the NSA and is backing Russia over Crimea.
        Android is open source.
        Both countries have the resources to go through Android with a fine toothed comb. This looks pretty much like the best short-term option they had - lets see if someone now buys up Symbian, it comes from a Finnish company and could be a good starting point.

        • Re:Globalization (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Thursday March 27, 2014 @02:40PM (#46594857)

          Android is open source.
          Both countries have the resources to go through Android with a fine toothed comb.

          And AOSP != Android. In fact, who knows what code that Samsung tablet is running. There can be plenty of proprietary code on Android that's binary only, and no amount of analysis of AOSP will find them because that's not the code running on the tablet.

          Code for the GPU is often closed-source. As is camera code, DSP code (for audio), etc.

          And hell, If it's Samsung, it probably ships with Google apps as well, powered by root-owned Google Services Framework.

          They'd actually be better off dumping iPads for those chintzy $100 tablets - those tend to be practically pure Google and very little of it is proprietary.

          Those proprietary blobs will will you.

          • by knarf (34928)

            Russia has plenty of resources to create their own Android distribution for whatever piece of hardware they want. They have the resources to reverse-engineer any blobs, aside from the fact that there is a less than zero chance that they already have all the data on those devices through their own version of the NSA. Your reaction implies that they'd run whatever Samsung decided to install on those tablets. That is of course a silly assumption, for many reasons.

        • Russia is upset about US + EU's reaction to them taking over the Crimea, and this is mainly just another form of counter-sanction propaganda.
          China is backing Russia over Crimea. (Because they have a similar idea for some Japanese owned islands as well as other territory.)

          FTFY.

        • China is not really backing Russia, as evidenced by their "abstain" votes in UNSC and GA. They're basically just standing aside and letting West and Russia hash it out.

        • Um, actually the Chinese and NSA go back a long ways as the NSA and China have run a series of listening posts long the former/current Soviet border since the 1970's...

      • by Atzanteol (99067)

        Who says they're running a stock ROM?

      • by mspohr (589790)

        Except, Russia (or anyone else) can audit Android code or write their own since it is open source.
        With Apple, you just have to take their word for it (FWIW).

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:24PM (#46594205) Homepage Journal

    What?! :-)

    You mean proven "hardware backdoor" [net-security.org] Samsung?

    I don't know about Cook & Ives shuck and jive, since the passing of Jobs... But I'm pretty sure the iOS crypto flaws are lower risk than ANYTHING those gangsters make at Samsung. I won't let them land an icebox in my house!

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Ah, but you see, Russia is also run by gangsters - and among each other gangsters have their own code of honor, which in fact may be far more effective at keeping each other honest in their dealings than the legal processes among so-called "honest businesses" - which are generally no less corrupt, but protect the guilty individuals from any personal liability.

    • by mspohr (589790)

      That's why you don't trust Apple or Samsung's proprietary blobs.
      With Android, you can install Replicant http://www.replicant.us/ [replicant.us] for a complete open source system which you can audit and verify (or re-code) yourself.
      Russia has the tech chops to do this.

  • by benjfowler (239527) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:24PM (#46594211)

    If certain Western intelligence agencies want to attack certain devices belonging to certain people, they'll find a way in, regardless of which mass market POS they're using. They're wasting their time. This is just a pointless gesture.

  • How in the world is this paranoid?

    • Well, how often have we provably seen our gadgets stealing data for foreign governments? We worry about operating systems, we worry about network controller firmware, and all those are potential risk factors, but has anything been found?

      The very big risk right now are the various networks the data is sent over. There seems to be government wiretaps everywhere, with NSA being the biggest offender, but other countries too. If you have an iPad and are using Apple's cloud services, then that's a potential risk

      • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

        i think GP is incredulously posing the question, why on earth would we think the russians are being paranoid? from their perspective, they have massive evidence that americans are spying on everybody and have owned all the interneet and equipmetn. not to mention that snowden is living in putin's house.

      • The networks are a risk but they are a risk that can be mitigated to at least some extent by strong well-managed encryption (and yes this does mean avoiding the easy to use centralised systems where the system operator manages the encryption and going for something more decentralised and that requires more work and understanding but lets you manage the encryption yourself).

        But if the end devices are compromised then the keys can be stolen or the data can simply be copied before it is encyrpted.

  • With all those typewriters why even bother buying tablets! On a side note I wonder if the code for their "secure almost-android" OS was typed up.

    Maybe they manually compiled it ?

    • With all those typewriters why even bother buying tablets! On a side note I wonder if the code for their "secure almost-android" OS was typed up.

      Typewriter + good microphone + software that distinguishes the sound that different keys make.

      • Re:Typewriters? (Score:5, Informative)

        by timeOday (582209) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @02:52PM (#46594951)
        They already did something much more sophisticated than that in the 1970's. Operation GUNMAN [matthewaid.com]:

        The monograph reveals that beginning in 1976, the KGB successfully installed sophisticated miniaturized electronic eavesdropping equipment and burst transmitters inside 16 IBM Selectric typewriters used by the staffs of the Moscow embassy and Leningrad consulate, which copied everything being typed on the machines, then periodically broadcast their take to KGB engineers manning listening posts just outside.

        The KGB bugs were discovered eight years later in 1984 by a NSA operation codenamed Project GUNMAN

        Here is the NSA's own writeup [nsa.gov]. Anybody who thinks the Russians are being "paranoid" is a real fool.

    • With all those typewriters why even bother buying tablets!

      Even better, as TFA explicitly states and TFS quotes: "old-fashioned typewriters". Perhaps these Sholes and Glidden [wikipedia.org] units from 1873.

      [Dear "Journalists", Please kill yourselves now.]

  • by Mr. Sketch (111112) <mister,sketch&gmail,com> on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:29PM (#46594257)

    If they were really concerned about spying, shouldn't they go with a Nexus that runs stock Android?

    • Re:Why Samsung? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by barlevg (2111272) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:37PM (#46594325)

      If they were really concerned about spying, shouldn't they go with a Nexus that runs Cyanogenmod?

      FTFY. Cyanogenmod, IIRC, has no proprietary or closed-source components.

      • by barlevg (2111272)
        Erm, there are still a few proprietary device drivers, it would appear. [wikipedia.org] Still, that's a lot closer to the ideal than stock Android.
      • Perhaps on a certain, small, specific, set of hardware targets; but the "Extract Proprietary Blobs" step is part of the Cyanogenmod build process for a reason...

        I think that it's mostly AOSP at higher levels; but when 'the details' are kernel-level drivers that can do whatever the hell they want without you noticing, or firmware that has its own CPU and memory space in which to hide and do god-knows-what, you can be pretty sure that if there are devils in the details, you are fucked. Gratuitously.
      • If they were really concerned about spying, shouldn't they go with a Nexus that runs Replicant

        I mean, for the average person I'm not saying they need to be so paranoid; there's likely backdoors or potential exploits, but it's also unlikely to ever matter, and some of the functionality that's sacrificed is likely not worth it for the average bloke. But for guarding state secrets? You want something that involves zero binary blobs, and Replicant is the closest you get for Android.

      • > FTFY. Cyanogenmod, IIRC, has no proprietary or closed-source components

              Except for the radio firmware, and on samsung the radio firmware can do arbitrary reads and writes to main memory.

        James

        • by barlevg (2111272)
          Yep. Noticed that after I posted. As the replier above you pointed out, Replicant is the best option in this context.
      • by knarf (34928)

        CM is full of binary blobs which are as closed and proprietary as they can get. If you want Android without the nasty bits you'd better look at Replicant [replicant.us] - that is if it works on your device, of course...

    • by Zumbs (1241138)
      Samsung is a South Korean company which means that Samsung is not required to follow the so-called Patriot Act. Google, Apple and Microsoft, however, is, making any product from these manufacturers a serious security risk.
    • by fhic (214533)

      I interpret this to mean that they already have good enough assets within Samsung to be confident that they're getting what they want without anything extra.

  • Pussy riot (Score:5, Funny)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:39PM (#46594345) Homepage Journal

    One can only surmise that the widespread anti-gay sentiment in the Russian government has something to do with them dumping their iPads in favor of Samsung tablets.

    Just saying.

  • "Paranoid" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pr0nbot (313417) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @01:43PM (#46594363)

    In the post-Snowden world, I think we can replace most instances of the word "paranoid" with "reasonable".

    • by hey! (33014)

      Hmm. "Just because you're reasonable doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."

      Wow, that actually works.

    • by PRMan (959735)
      We could have before that except the whole world are idiots...
  • This has nothing to do with distrust of the Apple, or paranoia of the NSA. It has everything to do with the recently imposed sanctions.
  • Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.

  • by RR (64484) on Thursday March 27, 2014 @02:21PM (#46594697)

    As the evil Soviet Union rises again, they're back to their old form, rejecting stylish devices from the USA and adopting clunky copycat devices.

  • by Pope (17780)

    Yeah, no spyware/malware on Android!

  • If Russia are not doing anything nefarious, why should they worry about what spies might discover? :)

    In all seriousness, while it’s nice that NSA spying on US citizens has been exposed, it’s NOT good that so many US state secrets were revealed in the process. Contrary to what some lunatics would like to tell you, there ARE external threats that face America and the American people. You can’t run proper defensive operations if all of your strategies are visible to the enemy. I’m no

    • And I’m not sure that the benefits necessarily outweigh the costs in this case.

      Unless there's some sort of imminent existential threat that US is exposed to thanks to Snowden revelations, of course the benefits outweigh the cost. The only thing that can be more important than preserving the free character of the country and the nation is preserving its existence.

  • Desk telephones were in the beginning produced only in the USA, UK, and Italy. Later they were produced everywhere.

    I think we need open source hardware and software for mobile devices. Like it is already done with PHP, GIMP, OpenStreetMap, etc.

    I realized only by now how important these Open Source Software movements are. We should really support such projects. This is our vital interest.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Crypto efforts from the UK and EU where attempted by different firms in the 1950-80's i.e. real crypto for small firms and non EU/EU governments.
      Their efforts faced other brands with vast marketing efforts, lots of cash and loss leader like low prices that seemed to win gov contracts.
      When embassies saw their crypto messages in the Western press years later they understood why. The hardware as sold was crypto junk. What they had found on the international market was a series of US/UK gov backed front com
  • Isn't it grand.

    I think they would be more trusting of china ( generic ) than south Korea ( Samsung ) or really push hard on their own devices.

  • What about Samsung's well-documented backdoor (in hardware), Tovarsch?!

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