Nokia Said this month Stop sales in Russia and condemned Invasion of UkraineBut the Finnish company made no mention of what it left behind: equipment and software that connects the government’s most powerful digital surveillance tool with the nation’s largest telecommunications network.
The tool was used to track supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny. Investigators said it intercepted a phone call from a Kremlin enemy who was later assassinated. The system known as the Operational Investigative Activity System (SORM) is also likely to be used at this time, as President Vladimir V. Putin culls and silences anti-war voices within Russia.
For more than five years, Nokia has provided equipment and services linking SORM with MTS, Russia’s largest telecom service provider, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times. While Nokia does not manufacture technology to intercept communications, the document lays out how it worked with state-linked Russian companies to plan, simplify and troubleshoot the SORM system’s connection to the MTS network. Russia’s main intelligence agency, the FSB, uses SORM to monitor phone conversations, intercept emails and text messages, and track other Internet communications.
The documents, spanning 2008 to 2017, reveal in previously unreported details that Nokia knew it was enabling Russian surveillance. The work is critical to Nokia’s presence in Russia, where it has become a top supplier of equipment and services to various telecom customers to help keep their networks up and running. Even as Mr Putin has become more bellicose abroad and more controlling at home, the business still generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
Over the years, multinational companies have taken advantage of Russia’s surge in demand for new technologies.Global outrage now The largest war on European soil Because World War II forced them to re-examine their roles.
The conflict in Ukraine upended the idea of product and service agnosticism. In the past, tech companies thought it was best to stay in authoritarian markets, even if that meant obeying the laws enacted by dictators.Facebook, Google and Twitter been trying to find balance When forced to censor, whether in Vietnam or Russia, and Apple teams up with state-owned partner to store customer data in China Authorities have access. Intel and Nvidia The chips are sold through distributors in China, allowing authorities to buy the computers they use to power surveillance.
The lessons companies have learned from what happened in Russia could have ramifications for other authoritarian states that sell advanced technology. The rules that give the Commerce Department the power to block companies, including telecommunications equipment suppliers, from selling technology in those places are part of a bill passed by the House of Representatives in February called the U.S. Competition Act.
“We should treat sophisticated surveillance technology like sophisticated missile or drone technology,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Obama administration. “We need to have proper controls on the proliferation of these things, as we do with other sensitive national security programs.”
Russian intelligence and digital surveillance expert Andrei Soldatov, who reviewed some Nokia documents at the request of The New York Times, said that without Nokia’s involvement in SORM, “it would be impossible to make such a system. .”
“They have to know how their equipment is going to be used,” said Mr Soldatov, now a fellow at the European Centre for Policy Analysis.
Nokia has not challenged the authenticity of the documents, saying that under Russian law it must make products that allow Russian telecom operators to connect to the SORM system. Other countries have made similar demands, and it has to decide between helping the internet run or quitting altogether, the company said. Nokia also said it did not manufacture, install or service SORM equipment.
The company said it follows international standards used by many vendors of core networking equipment, covering government surveillance. It called on governments to develop clearer export rules to clarify where technology is sold, and said it “unequivocally condemns” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Nokia does not have the ability to control, access or interfere with any lawful interception capabilities in the networks owned and operated by our customers,” it said in a statement.
MTS did not respond to a request for comment.
The documents reviewed by The New York Times were part of nearly 2 terabytes of internal Nokia emails, network diagrams, contracts, licensing agreements and photographs.cyber security company top guard and TechCrunchThe news site has previously reported on documents linking Nokia to the state surveillance system. Following the reports, Nokia downplayed its involvement.
But The Times got a bigger cache, showing Nokia’s in-depth knowledge of the plan. The documents include letters from Nokia sending engineers to inspect SORM, details of the company’s work at more than a dozen Russian sites, photos of the MTS network linked to SORM, floor plans of the network’s center and installation instructions from a Russian company that conducts surveillance equipment.
Following the 2017 filing, Nokia continued to work with MTS and other Russian telecommunications companies, according to the announcement.
SORM dates back to at least the 1990s and is similar to a system used by law enforcement around the world to eavesdrop and monitor criminal targets. Telecom equipment makers like Nokia are often called upon to ensure that the system, known as lawful interception, works smoothly in communications networks.
In democracies, police often need to obtain a court order before they can obtain data from telecommunications service providers.In Russia, the SORM system sidesteps this process, like a surveillance black box It can get any data the FSB wants without any supervision.
In 2018, Russia tightened a law requiring internet and telecom companies to disclose communications data to authorities without a court order. Authorities also require companies to keep phone conversations, text messages and e-mails for up to six months and internet traffic history for 30 days. SORM and independent review system Russia has developed to block access to websites.
Civil society groups, lawyers and activists have criticized the Russian government for using SORM to spy on Putin’s rivals and critics.They say the system is almost certainly now being used for fight against dissent against war. This month, Mr Putin vowed to expel pro-Western Russians, whom he called “”Scum and Traitor,” from society, whose government has cut off Foreign internet services such as Facebook and Instagram.
Nokia is best known as a pioneer in mobile phones, and it’s a business Sell 2013 after Apple and Samsung started dominating the market.It will now take most of its $24 billion annual sales Provides telecommunications equipment and services so that the telephone network can function properly. About $480 million of Nokia’s annual sales come from Russia and Ukraine, or less than 2 percent of its total revenue, according to market research firm Dell’Oro.
the past ten years, The Kremlin is getting more serious about cyber espionage, with telecom equipment providers legally required to provide gateways for espionage. If Nokia doesn’t comply, rivals such as Chinese telecom giant Huawei are seen as willing to do so.
By 2012, Nokia provided hardware and services for the MTS network, the documents show. The project document signed by Nokia personnel includes a network diagram describing how data and telephony traffic should flow to SORM. Annotated photos show cables marked SORM plugged into network equipment, apparently documenting the work of Nokia engineers.
The flowchart shows how data is transferred to Moscow, Russia, and to the FSB field offices, where agents can use computer systems to search people’s communications without their knowledge.
Details of how the program is used are largely confidential. “You never know the surveillance is being carried out,” said Russian lawyer Sarkis Darbinyan, co-founder of digital rights group Roskomsvoboda.
But some information about SORM has leaked from court cases, civil society groups and journalists.
In 2011, an embarrassing phone call from Russian opposition leader Boris Y. Nemtsov was leaked to the media. Mr. Soldatov, who covered the incident as an investigative reporter, said the recording of the call came from SORM surveillance. Mr. Nemtsov was murdered Near the Kremlin in 2015.
In 2013, a court case involving Mr. Navalny included details about his communications, which are believed to have been intercepted by SORM. In 2018, some communications from supporters of Mr Navalny were tracked by SORM, said Damir Genudinov, a Russian lawyer representing the activists. He said phone numbers, email addresses and internet protocol addresses had been merged with information the authorities had collected from VK, Russia’s largest social network, which also needs to provide access to user data through SORM.
“These tools are not only used to prosecute someone, but also to fill out files and collect data about someone’s activities, their friends, partners, etc.,” said Mr Genudinov, who now lives in Bulgaria. “Because of the system’s design, federal security officials have unrestricted access to all communications.”
By 2015, SORM was attracting international attention.That year, the European Court of Human Rights Call The program is a “covert surveillance system” deployed arbitrarily without adequate protection against abuse.court final rulein a case brought by a Russian journalist, the tools violated European human rights law.
In 2016, MTS hired Nokia to help upgrade its network in large swathes of Russia. According to a document, MTS has an ambitious plan to install new hardware and software between June 2016 and March 2017.
The documents show how Nokia has carried out SORM-related work at facilities in at least 12 Russian cities, showing how the network connects to surveillance systems. In February 2017, a Nokia employee was dispatched to three cities south of Moscow to inspect SORM, according to a letter from a Nokia executive informing MTS employees of the trip.
Nokia has partnered with Malvin, a Russian company that manufactures the SORM hardware used by the FSB. A Malvern document instructs Malvern partners to ensure they have entered the correct parameters in order to run SORM on switching hardware. It also reminds them to notify Malvern technicians of their password, username and IP address.
Malvern is one of several Russian companies that have won lucrative contracts to make equipment used to analyze and organize telecommunications data.Some of these companies, including Malvern, are owned by the Russian holding company Citadel, which is owned by Alisher UsmanovThe Putin-linked oligarch Usmanov is now the subject of sanctions by the US, EU, UK and Switzerland.
Malvern and Castle did not respond to requests for comment.
Other Nokia documents specify cables, routers and ports for connecting surveillance systems. The network map shows how equipment from other companies, including Cisco, plugs into the SORM box. Cisco declined to comment.
SORM-related work is often tedious for Nokia engineers in Russia. In 2017, a Nokia technician was tasked with traveling to Orel, a city about 225 miles south of Moscow.
“Check SORM,” he was told.
Michael Schwitz Contribution report.