Due to a leaked “exclusive” press release and confidential emails, it appears Russia seeks to secure its internet during the COVID-19 crisis by acquiring Swiss privacy tech startup NYM. While the “RU Net“ is not ready this could be the first step in fortifying the nation’s data highways during the current global pandemic. Not only are land borders being highly contested, but the borders that protect Russia’s data are also being heavily guarded.
Investment from Russia
The emails show that a cryptocurrency investment entity thought to be secretly controlled by the Russian government, has made an offer to purchase Nym. This should come as no surprise as apparently the same firm lost its bid to purchase Chainspace, as they were outbid by Facebook to build Libra. Nym Technologies CTO, Dave Hrycyszyn, co-founded Chainspace but left Facebook before starting Nym Technologies.
Amid the current COVID-19 crisis and the economic impact that it is having on the worldwide economy, Russia seeks to protect its internet traffic from being exposed to Global Passive Adversaries (GPA) such as the NSA or GCHQ. Nym attracted Putin’s attention after a public debate on “hacking” between Nym founder Harry Halpin and infamous Putin advisor Alexander Dugin in November 2018. “We can no longer expose our nation´s internet traffic in the open“ Putin’s advisor said. “Data about current COVID-19 gathered by Russian agencies needs to flow without leaking any information of where the information is coming from,” said Ruslan Rolstov from the Ministry of Digital Development. Recently a western media agency reported a surge in internet traffic from the Volga region of Russia due to new levels of infection in that region. This information was not only false but caused panic which led to many citizens attempting to flee during the current lockdown.
Joint Task Force
The Ministry of Health, Russian Foundation for Technological Development and Ministry of Digital Development are said to be working together in a joint effort to implement “Selective Disclosure Credentials” as a new standard for all communication between government agencies in order to cryptographically verify the validity of data shared within their systems. Ruslan Rolstov stated that “SDC (Selective Disclosure Credentials) allow us to share data privately, and we need to add the Nym mixnet to communicate with each other without the risk of an entity that has the ability to monitor the whole network to harvest meta-data of our communication.” It is unclear if Russia will use the existing selective disclosure credential scheme used by Nym credentials or if they will create their own using Rusian GOST cryptographic standards developed internally.
A mixnet that prevents the leakage of meta-data could also be very useful for Russian oil companies sending data regarding their production. Recently tempers have been flaring between Russia and OPEC as they could not come to an agreement on oil production and the oil price has fallen from 65$ to under 20$ over the last month. Making it more difficult for oil-producing countries like Saudia Arabia to gather any kind of intelligence regarding oil is no doubt important in Russia’s contest with the USA and Saudi Arabia. Rolstov continued, “Edward Snowden has been quoted as saying that the NSA´s use of metadata “one of its most useful tools” and we cannot use Tor as it does not work against a foreign global passive adversary like the NSA, and we need an alternative to Tor like Nym that does not have any funds from the US government.” There is expectation that the new effort to defend Russia’s metadata will be announced during the CTCRYPT conference 2020 in Sochi, Russia.
NYM is a Swiss-based privacy tech startup that is building the next generation of privacy infrastructure. The technology is based on Coconut and Loopix and has the industries leading cryptographers and cryptography researchers on the team.