Risk Alert! Yandex Russian Search Engine to Be Offered for Android Devices – Additional Security Risk to West and NATO from Kremlin?

  • Yandex is a Russian search engine.
  • Eight out of 11 board seats will be held by individuals with direct ties to Russian government.
  • Yandex will be available on the Android devices starting March 1.

It has been announced that starting on March 1, 2020, new Android smartphones in the European Economic Zone will have a choice of using the Russian Yandex search engine. Yandex Search is a web search engine owned by a Russian corporation. It is the core product of Yandex. In January 2015, Yandex Search generated 51.2% of all search traffic in Russia according to LiveInternet. The search engine will be offered in Estonia, Finland Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

In 2014, Valdimir Putin declared the internet was a creation of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His Kremlin is known to go after Russia’s private technology firms. Russia also wants to control all the internet, in the same way as China does with the Great Fire Wall. Also, in Russia every single social media user, or even any site user or owner of a site has must comply with Russian law that requires every user to provide their government identity and full information, including a phone number, There is no privacy in Russia when using the internet. That is why offering Yandex as a search engine should be concerning to the West and especially to NATO.

In November 2019, Yandex agreed to a corporate restructuring, allowing veto powers over key company decisions to the body that has close ties to the Kremlin. Actually, everything in Russia with success has ties to the government, as is also true in China.  The key decisions are especially pertaining to the security of personal data and intellectual property. Eight seats out of 11 on the Yandex Board will belong to individuals with direct ties to the Russian government. It is been taken over by Putin’s team.

Moreover, the European Commission is responsible for this new development of Yandex being offered by Google. The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU.

The European Commission levied a record fine of five billion dollars on Google for breaching the E.U.’s competition rules by, among other things, forcing cell-phone manufacturers to pre-install the firm’s search engine and Chrome Web browser on Android phones.

Since the gigantic fine, an auction was held in August 2019 and providers submitted bids and the amount they are willing to pay Google, each time their search engine is used. The three highest offers won. Looking at the larger picture, does this mean the Kremlin made one of the highest bids?

Search engines typically collect data. The following data is collected:

  • What you search for
  • Websites you visit
  • Videos you watch
  • The ads you tap on and watch
  • Your location
  • Device information
  • IP address and cookie data

Nevertheless, the big concern is the nations listed as NATO member countries. This means from now on Russia will be gaining information about the users living in those respective countries. From a security standpoint, it means additional intelligence gathering and possibly a threat to the sovereignty of the former Soviet Baltic nations. Poland has a lot to worry about with Russia as well.

Intelligence agencies and the West should take a closer look and formulate a counter strategy. Western Europe could be subjected to anything from psychological doctrine to social engineering via Russia ads. Since everything posted in Russia is government controlled, the same would apply when you search on a Russian search engine. There are also opportunities for Russia to conduct cyber hacking opportunities and cyber warfare. A myriad of scenarios are of a concern.

Overall this decision could have serious ramifications and comes with increased risks. There definitely needs to be risk assessment and control measures need to be implemented.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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