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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreign Software a Spy Risk, Deputies Say

Foreign computer software should be banned from sensitive government offices because it makes Russia vulnerable to spying and sabotage, two influential State Duma deputies said Thursday.

Deputies Gennady Gudkov and Alexander Khinshtein, both members of the United Russia party, told reporters they had proposed the ban as part of amendments to a bill on information security, which is currently awaiting a second Duma reading.

The proposal comes three months after a spy scandal in which the Federal Security Service, or FSB, accused British diplomats of passing secret messages via a specially equipped rock.

"It is silly to hope that foreign security agencies, under whose wing large foreign companies operate," would not take the chance to use IT products to spy on Russia, Khinshtein said.

The FSB supported the ban, he added.

The FSB's press office, however, declined to comment on the issue Thursday.

Khinshtein, who is also a muckraking journalist, made headlines last year with his calls to investigate former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's acquisition of a state-owned dacha.

"We don't want to build an iron curtain for Western software," but Russia must break its addiction to the "foreign programming needle," said Gudkov, a member of the Duma's Security Committee.

Russia spends $12 billion per year on foreign IT products, Gudkov said. The majority of IT products used in Russia are foreign-made, he said, and such dependence threatens national security.

Khinshtein said it was virtually impossible to ensure foreign companies did not build devices into their software to extract sensitive information from their users.

On Friday, the Duma's Information Policy Committee is expected to consider the proposal, which would prohibit strategic state organizations, such as the military, from using foreign IT products where domestic equivalents are available. The government would draw up a list of strategic organizations and industries within one year after the law is passed, according to the proposal.

While there is a need to protect national security, a more fine-tuned solution than the deputies' ban is required, industry players and regulators said.

The security problem "is unlikely to be solved with just one, or [even] several clauses" in the bill, the IT and Communication Ministry's press service said in an e-mailed response.

Weighing the right balance between foreign trade and national security is not unique to Russia, as new proposals to restrict foreign direct investment on the grounds of national security are also being discussed in the United States, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia.

But such legislation should not become a vehicle for "commercial protectionism," he said.

In response to questions about the proposed ban, Microsoft said Thursday that it developed a Government Security Program in 2002 that allows government agencies to view the source code for Windows and other Microsoft products.

Russia was the first country to join the program, which allowed the FSB, the Defense Ministry, bodies in charge of technology oversight and other government agencies to review Microsoft's code and ensure there was no security breach, the company said in an e-mailed response.

Intel declined to comment, while Oracle's spokespeople were unavailable Thursday.