The Russian ICC (V): FSB

As we have indicated in previous posts, the FSB (Federal’nya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) is the main heir of the KGB and the FAPSI; directed by Army General Alexander Bortnikov, whose breadth of responsibilities and power in Russia are undoubtedly marked by Vladimir Putin himself, a former director of the Service who, upon becoming President of the country, greatly strengthened the capabilities of the FSB -and its budget- as well as the presence of former Service members in the whole of Russian society. The FSB not only works in areas directly associated with intelligence and counterintelligence, but also reaches aspects such as social or electronic surveillance.

Regarding the cyber domain, the FSB has a wide range of technical and regulatory powers: although it is a service dedicated to internal intelligence, it has authorization for external intelligence actions, theoretically coordinated with the SVR. Among others, he is responsible for the security of information at the federal level, something similar to a police force to use or at least to the Information Services -with the corresponding name in each case- of a police force. In this area it has the attributions – and obviously, capacities – SIGINT operative for the interception of communications in the State: since 1995, it has the legally constituted right to monitor telephone lines, open mails and monitor Internet traffic ([1]). The FSB operates the system called SORM for this purpose, to which Russian Internet service providers must facilitate the work by deploying capabilities that they must also pay out of pocket. This system is operated by an FSB group initially designated UKIB (Computer & Information Security Directorate), Directorate R, heir to the KGB and focused especially on the fight against cybercrime and terrorism. The successor of this Directorate is the Information Security Center (CIS) of the FSB, framed in the Counterintelligence Directorate (SKR), the Second Directorate of the FSB and also identified as the Military Unit (VCH) 64829 or the Center number 18. SORM, which we will speak about in other posts as an example of “collaboration” of companies with the Russian intelligence services, deals, like the FSB mainly does, with the interception of data in the “Russian Internet”, where CIS is responsible for surveillance and counterintelligence, also working closely with Directorate K of the Russian Ministry of the Interior, responsible for combating cybercrime ([2]).

A priori, these CIS surveillance and counterintelligence capacities should be focused on Russia, without directly impacting the outside of the country; however, even though the FSB and within it the CIS are focused on inner intelligence, its actions may be directed against that focus but against Russian interests outside its borders, including elements considered to be disturbing according to Russian criteria (this may include attack on terrorist objectives … or simply political) and even with police powers of investigation and prosecution of such elements.

The Center for Electronic Communications Surveillance (TsRRSS), identified as FSB unit 71330 and focused on ELINT, has electronic spying and cyberespionage capabilities (communications interception, decryption …). This Center (number 16) is hypothetically the main offensive capability of the FSB, including operations outside Russia, as opposed to groups such as the CIS, described above and focused especially on defensive and surveillance tasks. Its internal structure is classified, and its responsibilities include the operation and processing of electronic communications.

The Center for Special Communications and Information Protection (TsBISS) provides the FSB with protection against cyberattacks or third party intrusions. From this Center, there have been peculiar (or interesting) initiatives such as the request to prohibit services such as GMail, Hotmail or Skype in Russia, as their use may constitute a threat to national security. A comment by the Center’s director in 2011 which caused a great stir at the time in social networks but that, much more interesting than the relative turmoil on the privacy and freedom of the users, was the moment in which it was published, marked by facts as transcendent as Arab spring or the Russian legislative elections.

Another interesting group in the cyber environment within the FSB is the Communications Security Center (CBS FSB, Vch 43753), which is part of the Eighth Service Directorate and is responsible for the logical protection of government communications through product accreditation and certification of safety standards, a kind of equivalent to the Certification Office of the Spanish CNI. Also in this sense, TSLSZ (translated approximately as Center for Licensing, Certification and Protection of State Secrets) is the branch of the FSB in charge of enabling organizations to handle classified information, in this case something similar to the attributions of The National Security Office in the CNI.

Finally, as a group with no offensive capabilities, cyber training activities within the FSB are the responsibility of the Institute of Cryptography, Telecommunications and Information Technology (IKSI), in the Service Academy, which trains specialists in cybersecurity not only for the FSB but also for other Russian Services… or for industry.

To try to summarize this structure, a summary table of the main groups or centers directly related to SIGINT or CNO dependent on the FSB is shown below:

Center ID Unit Function
Center for Information Security FSB CIS 64829 SORM. Search and surveillance
Center for Electronic Surveillance of Communications FSB TSRRSS 71330 Attacking capacity/td>
Centre for the Security of Information and Special Communications TsBISS N/A Defense against foreign intrusions
Communications Security Center FSB CBS 43753 Accreditation of products and services
Center for Licensing, Certification and Protection of State Secrets FSB TSLSZ N/A Security clearance
Institute of Cryptography, Telecommunications and Computer Science IKSI N/A Training

[1] Roland Heickerö. Industrial Espionage and Theft of Information. In Proceedings of the 14th European Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security. Nasser Abouzakhar (Ed.). University of Hertfordshire. Julio, 2015.
[2] Taia Global. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Internet Operations Against Ukraine. Taia Global, 2015.

See also in: