Major global technology providers SAP, Symantec and McAfee have allowed Russian authorities to hunt for vulnerabilities in software deeply embedded across the U.S. government, a Reuters investigation has found.
The practice potentially jeopardizes the security of computer networks in at least a dozen federal agencies, U.S. lawmakers and security experts said. It involves more companies and a broader swath of the government than previously reported. In order to sell in the Russian market, the tech companies let a Russian defense agency scour the inner workings, or source code, of some of their products. Russian authorities say the reviews are necessary to detect flaws that could be exploited by hackers.
But those same products protect some of the most sensitive areas of the U.S government, including the Pentagon, NASA, the State Department, the FBI and the intelligence community, against hacking by sophisticated cyber adversaries like Russia.
Reuters revealed in October that Hewlett Packard Enterprise software known as ArcSight, used to help secure the Pentagon's computers, had been reviewed by a Russian military contractor with close ties to Russia's security services.
Now, a Reuters review of hundreds of U.S. federal procurement documents and Russian regulatory records shows that the potential risks to the U.S. government from Russian source code reviews are more widespread.
Beyond the Pentagon, ArcSight is used in at least seven other agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the State Department's intelligence unit, the review showed. Additionally, products made by SAP, Symantec and McAfee and reviewed by Russian authorities are used in at least eight agencies. Some agencies use more than one of the four products.
McAfee, SAP, Symantec and Micro Focus, the British firm that now owns ArcSight, all said that any source code reviews were conducted under the software maker's supervision in secure facilities where the code could not be removed or altered. The process does not compromise product security, they said. Amid growing concerns over the process, Symantec and McAfee no longer allow such reviews and Micro Focus moved to sharply restrict them late last year.
"Even letting people look at source code for a minute is incredibly dangerous," said Steve Quane, executive vice president for network defense at Trend Micro, which sells TippingPoint security software to the U.S. military.
Worried about those risks to the U.S. government, Trend Micro has refused to allow the Russians to conduct a source code review of TippingPoint, Quane said.
Quane said top security researchers can quickly spot exploitable vulnerabilities just by examining source code.
"We know there are people who can do that, because we have people like that who work for us," he said.
In contrast to Russia, the U.S. government seldom requests source code reviews when buying commercially available software products, U.S. trade attorneys and security experts say.
Many of the Russian reviews have occurred since 2014, when U.S.-Russia relations plunged to new lows following Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Western nations have accused Russia of sharply escalating its use of cyber attacks during that time, an allegation Moscow denies.
Some U.S. lawmakers worry source code reviews could be yet another entry point for Moscow to wage cyberattacks.
Most U.S. government agencies declined to comment when asked whether they were aware technology installed within their networks had been inspected by Russian military contractors. Others said security was of paramount concern but that they could not comment on the use of specific software.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said it continually monitors the commercial technology it uses for security weaknesses.
Tech companies wanting to access Russia's large market are often required to seek certification for their products from Russian agencies, including the FSB security service and Russia's Federal Service for Technical and Export Control (FSTEC), a defense agency tasked with countering cyber espionage.
FSTEC declined to comment and the FSB did not respond to requests for comment. The Kremlin referred all questions to the FSB and FSTEC.
FSTEC often requires companies to permit a Russian government contractor to test the software's source code.
SAP HANA, a database system, underwent a source code review in order to obtain certification in 2016, according to Russian regulatory records. The software stores and analyzes information for the State Department, Internal Revenue Service, NASA and the Army.
An SAP spokeswoman said any source code reviews were conducted in a secure, company-supervised facility where recording devices or even pencils are "are strictly forbidden."
"All governments and governmental organizations are treated the same with no exceptions," the spokeswoman said.
While some companies have since stopped allowing Russia to review source code in their products, the same products often remain embedded in the U.S. government, which can take decades to upgrade technology.
Security concerns caused Symantec to halt all government source code reviews in 2016, the company's chief executive told Reuters in October. But Symantec Endpoint Protection antivirus software, which was reviewed by Russia in 2012, remains in use by the Pentagon, the FBI, and the Social Security Administration, among other agencies, according to federal contracting records reviewed by Reuters.
In a statement, a Symantec spokeswoman said the newest version of Endpoint Protection, released in late 2016, never underwent a source code review and that the earlier version has received numerous updates since being tested by Russia. The California-based company said it had no reason to believe earlier reviews had compromised product security. Symantec continued to sell the older version through 2017 and will provide updates through 2019. Chris Inglis, the former deputy director of the National Security Agency, the United States' premier electronic spy agency, disagrees.
"When you're sitting at the table with card sharks, you can't trust anyone," he said. "I wouldn't show anybody the code."