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Russia votes to ban smartphones

February 21, 2019 | Expert Insights

Russia votes to prohibit the military from using smartphones or recording devices, a move intended to mask its soldiers’ digital trail.


The Russian government is eliminating digital trail after continuous probe by the West and the consequential response regarding its alleged cyber-attacks. Russia is known to launch cyber- attacks against targets across the world, including the US electronic voting systems in 2016. The UK National Cyber Security centre identified that the cyber campaigns were allegedly carried out by the Russian military intelligence service, GRU.

In October 2017, the NATO secretary general called out Russia for its “reckless pattern of behaviour, including the use of force against its neighbours, attempted interference in election processes, and widespread disinformation campaigns.”  NATO allies are developing plans to counter Russia’s cyber-attack.

The threat of cyber-attacks on the military is on the rise. Even if high-standard security measures were rigorously deployed, networks would still be attacked for the simple reason that all networks connected to the internet are attacked. Moreover, a significant portion of those attacks will result in penetration, with some of those breaches involving the exfiltration of data.


The State Duma of Russia has given the third reading to the law that prohibits Russian army servicemen and conscripts from using mobile phones and other portable electronic devices that allow them to connect to global networks and transmit information. Russian lawmakers voted to prohibit the use of smartphones or recording devices, or posting anything online about their military service after journalists used soldiers’ digital traces to reveal actions that the Kremlin wanted to keep secret.

408 MPs supported the bill, no one voted against. The measure is deemed necessary because of difficulties in organizing control for informational restrictions. The Russian military has long sought to limit troops' use of social media to avoid information leaks. In recent years, pictures, videos and social media posts put up online by Russian servicemen, contradicted the government’s claim that its troops were not fighting in eastern Ukraine and undercut the official line that Russia’s role in the Syrian civil war was limited. The bill also prohibits servicemen from contacting the press, talking about their colleagues or details and peculiarities of their service.

Vladimir Bogodukhov, a member of the Duma’s military committee, said: “We are defenceless, as long as our information is not protected from our so-called partners. “The goal of this legislation is not to complicate the lives of servicemen, but to secure their safety from exposure.” Older mobile phones will not be banned.  Troops who violate the ban would face disciplinary measures and could be fired from service.

One analysis by the investigative site Bellingcat tracked Russian soldiers transporting a surface-to-air missile system believed to be tied to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. In a video called Selfie Soldiers, Vice News managed to track down a Russian soldier from Buryatia in central Russia who had posted photos from east Ukraine during the conflict. Data from social networks has also made it easier to follow members of Russia’s armed forces in Syria, in some cases several weeks before the country’s involvement in the civil war was made public. “Information, shared by soldiers on the internet or mass media, is used for informational and psychologic pressure and in separate cases to form a biased assessment of Russia’s state policy,” said the note, signed by Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai A. Pankov.

The Russian government has also planned to briefly disconnect the entire country from the internet. The brief shutdown is part of an ongoing effort to bolster Russia’s cybersecurity against foreign attacks that would cut it off from the rest of the world. Russia has been building its own localized Domain Name System (DNS) for a few years now. The Russian government would pay for a new infrastructure that will give it more control over the internet within the country, allowing Russia to get closer to the kind of internet regulation that exists under the Great Firewall of China.


Our assessment is that due to the surge in nationalism in countries like Russia, they are disconnecting from the web and smartphones, which are predominantly built on technology and infrastructure made by US companies and controlled by US tech giants. We feel that information security plays a crucial role in national security.

India Watch

In India, security agencies are keeping a close eye on the social networking profiles of over 2,000 serving and retired officers of the defence forces. The move is to ensure that no information is being leaked via social networking sites, which can be used against the nation.  Officers are being tracked and information was extracted from them on social media websites. Such incidents take place once the identity along with interests and personal views of an individual get highlighted on social networking sites.