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Russia has new ways to track and spy on Internet users

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Russia has built an arsenal of new digital tools to track internet activity and spy on anti-war citizens, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing obtained documents. Thanks to the new tools, the Russian services have, among other things, insight into the network of connections between users of encrypted messengers such as Whatsapp and Signal.

As the American daily writes, the demand for online surveillance tools generated by the Russian services has created an entire industry creating new systems to track the activities of Russians. Based on the manufacturer’s documents obtained from the whistleblower, the “NYT” describes a number of capabilities that the Federal Security Service (FSB) acquired thanks to this. New programs, created by companies related to the security sector and the military, allow it, among others, to to track the movements of phone users to, for example, check whether given users have met or whether a given person has two phones.

A system that indicates “suspicious behavior”

Other new tools include a transcription system for intercepted conversations that automatically flags “suspicious behavior” and a program that tracks the activity of users of encrypted messengers such as WhatsApp and Signal. Although this tool does not provide insight into the content of the message, it allows you to determine the details of who talked to whom and when, and even whether files were sent. As “NYT” writes, this was supposed to alarm experts who, although they knew that it was theoretically possible, were not previously aware that the Russian services have such an ability.

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Russia wants to export its surveillance tools

According to the “NYT”, though Russia has so far had weaker capabilities to spy on Internet traffic than China and Iran are now rapidly catching up with these regimes. In addition, Russian companies are already planning to export their tools abroad. The documents are supposed to show their efforts to sell products in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa and South America. The CitizenLab center already reported in January that the programs of one of these companies, Protea, are used in Iran to track web usage and block sites. These tools are also used in Russian-occupied territories Ukraine. “China is the pinnacle of digital authoritarianism. But in Russia, increased efforts are being made to reform network regulations along Chinese lines. Russia will come out of this as a competitor of Chinese companies,” Adrian Shahbaz, an expert at Freedom House, told the newspaper.

Main photo source: Anton Gvozdikov/Shutterstock

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