Russia works on a super app for government officials

Russia works on a super app for government officials
By bne IntelliNews November 22, 2021

Russia's Ministry for Digitalisation has announced a tender for a super app that government officials would use to "improve security and independence of sanctions."

The winner of the tender will collect RUB487.7mn ($6.7mn) to develop an app that will combine a messenger with tools for voice communication, video conferencing, cloud storage, a task manager, an internal portal and an antivirus, Konstantin Gurzov, director of the cloud service and data management department at the digitalisation ministry, was quoted as saying by RBC business daily.

According to Gurzov, government officials will be able to install the app on their devices, taking security concerns into account, as well as use it in a browser.

At this point, the government expects the app to have 100,000 users, and the tender description says that the system primarily aims to improve information security and make Russian government officials less vulnerable in case of sanctions imposed by foreign nations.

According to the digitalisation ministry, the first working prototype of the app is expected to be launched before the end of 2022. Its test run will include the digitalisation ministry, as well as the state statistics agency RosStat, the national pension fund and the economic development ministry.

Meanwhile, there are no plans to use any special hardware with the app at this point, and at least in the first years of its operation, the super app will be installed on existing devices, said Gurzov.

Since the United States and the European Union slapped sanctions on Russia following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine back in 2014, senior Russian officials have been repeatedly speaking about a need to step up security of government operations and communication.

A switch to locally developed software and hardware has been named as the most preferable way to achieve the desired information security, but the execution of this idea has proved to be difficult and time consuming.

RBC quoted a government source as saying that 54% of Russian state agencies are still using Microsoft Exchange Server, although "because of the sanctions, the government is moving away from foreign solutions towards solutions based on open-source code or local tech."

In August, Russian business daily Kommersant reported that by 2022, authorities plan to switch all government officials, as well as public sector employees, to Russian messengers and other IT services.

The digitalisation ministry said that the measure was necessary to protect data and rule out unauthorised access to sensitive information. It is clear, that the announced time frame is unrealistic, but the drive towards substituting foreign IT solutions with local equivalents is likely to continue.

At the moment, free cloud-based services, including foreign ones, are used by government agencies, which, according to the digitalisation ministry, cannot properly protect transferred data.

In addition, if more sanctions are imposed on Russia, some of foreign cloud-based IT services used in Russia could become unavailable.

There have been cases when already existing sanctions have prevented Russian institutions from obtaining foreign software.

For instance, recently Microsoft declined to sell software to the Bauman tech university out of fears of reprisals from the United States, as the university trains personnel for Russia's defence industry.

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