Content, Breach, Security Program Controls/Technologies

Wikileaks Data Dump: Russian Contractors Spying on Internet, Mobile Users?


Here we go with Russia and Wikileaks again -- and this one’s another doozie. If a trove of documents the self-styled, transparency watchdog released earlier this week have even a kernel of truth to them, it seems that Russian state contractors may be spying on Internet and mobile users through a snooping network.

Before we tackle the latest Wikileaks data dump, let’s first consider the wider view. Remembering founder Julian Assange’s alleged infamous involvement in the 2016 presidential election, it’s difficult at best to figure out his motives in putting 35 Russian documents into open view. Similarly, there’s no way to know for certain if the pages and pages of incriminating material are true or of any value, as TechCrunch aptly reports.

Question: Why do we even bring this up? Answer: Remember the NSA revelations? Then don’t discount sophisticated, state-allowed Internet and mobile surveillance on a mass scale. It’s arguably the next watershed. While there’s nothing new about intercepting communications, it’s another layer when the lines are blurred between what’s lawful and what can be done without court orders by state contractors.

The allegedly brought-to-light Russian documents come from what Wikileaks has labeled its “Spy Files” series containing information on surveillance activities. In this case, it appears there’s a legal loophole, well, actually it’s a legal highway. This is what Wikileaks wrote: “This publication continues WikiLeaks' Spy Files series with releases about surveillance contractors in Russia.

While the surveillance of communication traffic is a global phenomena, the legal and technological framework of its operation is different for each country. Russia's laws - especially the new Yarovaya Law - make literally no distinction between Lawful Interception and mass surveillance by state intelligence authorities (SIAs) without court orders.”

As an example, Wikileaks points to Peter-Service, a telecommunications contractor with locations in Russia and Ukraine that began operations in 1992 as a billing solutions provider. Its technologies today, however, “go far beyond the classical billing process and extend into the realms of surveillance and control,” Wikileaks writes.

“As a matter of fact, Peter-Service is uniquely placed as a surveillance partner due to the remarkable visibility their products provide into the data of Russian subscribers of mobile operators…This enriched and aggregated metadata is of course of interest to Russian authorities, whose access became a core component of the system architecture.”

As with much of Wikileaks’ disclosures, it’s challenging to pin down Assange’s motives for certain, no matter how he positions the organization’s posture as a muckraking advocate for full transparency. The cynical among us might see it as an attempt to refashion his image away from charges that he’s an informal operative for Russian president Putin or at the very least state agencies, charges that stem from Assange’s release of questionably-timed hacked emails in last year’s presidential race.

With the Russian spying disclosures, might he, as TechCrunch suggests, be trying to redirect the conversation to his benefit?

Here’s what Assange has to say about Wikileaks’ motives with its “Spy Files:”

"Mass interception of entire populations is not only a reality, it is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries.

It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, including for ’political opponents’ are a reality. Today WikiLeaks began releasing a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry. Working with Bugged Planet and Privacy International, as well as media organizations from six countries – ARD in Germany, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, The Hindu in India, L’Espresso in Italy, OWNI in France and the Washington Post in the U.S. Wikileaks is shining a light on this secret industry that has boomed since September 11, 2001 and is worth billions of dollars per year.

WikiLeaks Spy Files are more than just about ’good Western countries’ exporting to ’bad developing world countries’. Western companies are also selling a vast range of mass surveillance equipment to Western intelligence agencies."

If there are conclusions to be drawn here, perhaps it’s best left to individual interpretation. If you’re so inclined, have at it.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.