Russian spy agency complains about Gmail, Skype

MOSCOW Fri Apr 8, 2011 2:52pm EDT

Zubair Ghumro speaks to his friend Sheeraz Qazalbash using Skype software at an internet cafe in central London in this August 10, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

Zubair Ghumro speaks to his friend Sheeraz Qazalbash using Skype software at an internet cafe in central London in this August 10, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Paul Hackett

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's domestic security service called for access to encrypted communication providers like Gmail, Hotmail and Skype on Friday, saying the uncontrolled use of such services could threaten national security.

The proposal by the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB secret police raised concerns some senior Russian officials would like to limit Internet access to stave off any potential protests ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

"Different software is being distributed allowing the encryption of traffic: that is services including Gmail, Hotmail and Skype," Alexander Andreyechkin, the head of the Federal Security Service's special communications center, was quoted as saying by state RIA news agency.

"The uncontrolled use of these services could lead to a large-scale threat to Russian security," RIA quoted Andreyechkin as telling a Russian government commission on technology.

Communications Minister Igor Shchyogolev said Russia had no plans to ban Google Inc's Gmail, Microsoft Corp's Hotmail service or Skype Ltd's Skype service.

"There are no plans to cancel or close Skype, Gmail and Hotmail or any other foreign services working in Russia," Shchyogolev said in a statement. He added officials were simply studying how to regulate the new technologies.

A Kremlin source said the FSB proposal was so radical it did not even merit comment, but after an major cyber attack on prominent hosting website LiveJournal many Internet users in Russia said they are worried.

President Dmitry Medvedev's own blog on LiveJournal was crippled on Wednesday for at least an hour by a "denial of service" attack which he said was "revolting and illegal."

"LIKE IN CHINA"

The FSB proposal provoked a wave of negative comments in the Russian language Internet, with many saying Russia could follow China's attempts to limit the Internet.

"We shall live as they do in China but only without the Chinese economy, without any prospects and without the shooting of those who are corrupt," said troublemakerno1 in Russian in an Internet discussion on www.mail.ru.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no cause for alarm.

"There is no reason to be worried," Peskov said. "The FSB has a point of view: there are other points of view too. They are all going to be discussed."

But tight state control of television means the Internet is one of the only areas where Russians can vent often scathing criticism of Putin, Medvedev and the Russian elite.

Russia has at least 50 million Internet users out of a population of nearly 143 million and LiveJournal hosts more than 4.7 million Russian bloggers.

LiveJournal said it had been the victim of large-scale attacks, some of which it believed were political.

Svetlana Ivannikova, head of LiveJournal Russia, said lawyers were preparing a report for the Interior Ministry on the attacks.

Diplomats told Reuters the attacks on LiveJournal had all the hallmarks of a highly organized, well-financed cyber attack. Security experts say Russia has an advanced cyber warfare unit made up of hackers who the security forces have enticed to work for the state.

Opposition politicians said the authorities may be testing their ability to disrupt the Internet communications which played a prominent role in the uprisings across the Middle East and the Arab world.

(Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Editing by Steve Gutterman)

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