- By Bruce Tober -
If the Cold War Soviet mindset was known for nothing else, it was known
for secrecy. Today's Russian government
also seems set on maintaining as much secrecy as possible, at least about its
IT infrastructure. This isn't surprising considering Russian President Vladimir Putin and
most of his ministry
heads are former KGB operatives.
But recently, there has been evidence of Linux use in the Russian government.
Earlier this year, Sergei Antimonov, director general of Russian anti-virus company DialogueScience, Inc., said the
Russian Ministry of Defense and other government
institutions were looking at using "Open Source Unix-like operating
systems" and related software in near future. "There are three
reasons: security, price and openness," Antimonov says.
Putin may be the stimulus to make Open
Source the ubiquitous IT infrastructure in Russia, according to
Viacheslav Kaloshin, technical manager, for IP-Tel Company. Kaloshin says Putin is
outspoken about his desire to end the country's dependence on Western
software production by building up Russian development.
Kaloshin says that's all to do with a perception in the country -- that
imports of Western products are killing off domestic ones. "In all
aspects of our life," he says, "from medicine to heavy machinery, our
manufacturers face strong pressure from Western manufacturers and the
president has called to develop Russian, instead of using Western. Many
people are afraid Western industry will kill Russian software
development completely. But the situation is starting to change.
"The law about software piracy is beginning to work," Kaloshin adds. "Many companies try to legalize all software that they use. Many system administrators after
calculating the cost of software from Microsoft start looking at free
operating systems." In his view, it's still virtually impossible to use
Linux or FreeBSD exclusively on all desktop computers, "but on servers, it is a perfect choice. In government structures the situation is the same --
desktop computers run Windows, but servers on FreeBSD or Linux OSes."
The Ministry of Defense is using MSVS, an acronym for the Russian name
which translates as "Armed Forces' Portable System," an operating system approved
for use in 1998. According to Vitaly Fedrushkov, a network security
specialist with a major Russian company, MSVS is currently based on
Linux 2.2 kernels and has a security certification higher than NetWare 5.1 or Windows NT.
Fedrushkov says MSVS is similar to the U.S. National Security Agency's SELinux. A long-time Linux fan and co-founder of the Chelyabinsk Linux User Group, he
explains that each ministry used to have its own research
facilities and there were competing departments, for example the
Ministry of Electronic Industry, and Ministry of Radio Equipment
Industry. "The former attended the church of IBM, the latter believed in
DEC hardware," he says.
"Nowadays, with benefits of commercial-off-the-shelf-based systems widely accepted," Fedrushkov adds, "the strategy of many competing efforts was canceled. Apart from legacy systems, the primary vendor is chosen in most areas, and all potential
government clients merge their financial efforts to sponsor a single
project. Both Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Internal
Affairs approved MSVS."
The use of MSVS is mandated when the work is of a confidential nature
and security is a major concern, as in military applications. For more
mundane chores, such as letter-writing, whatever the user prefers may be used.
Asked why Russian Linux distributions ASP or ALT weren't used rather
than developing MSVS, he says: "You can ask developers of SELinux as
well. Security features of stock Linux kernels and user-space software
are insufficient to obtain even a minimal certification."
Svetlana Semavina of ASPLinux says the Linux distribution is introducing itself to some Russian ministries. "Ministries are too big to make decisions fast," she says, "so we can't yet speak about the adoption of ASPLinux or other distribution." She
says it's still too early to discuss any results of meetings with ministry officials,
other than that those ministries "agreed to test our ASPLinux."
But within the ministries, she explains, some departments such as
Research and Development Institute of Power Engineering,
and KosmoService, which is developing software for Centers of Satellite
Flying Monitoring, are migrating to ASPLinux. "They
know that one day they must migrate to MSVS and understand that it is
Linux-like OS. We are supporting them with it, it includes consulting,
training, porting their applications to ASPLinux. Projects are not yet