#PutinAtWar: Russian Information Security 101 for Selfie Soldiers

A brief look into the alleged new Russian military info-security initiative

Left: (Source: All World Wars); Center: (Source: All That is Interesting); Right: (Source: VKontakte / dkulibin).

The Russian military will not be hitting the “like” button on its soldiers’ social media posts any time soon.

Russian military identified information security as a vulnerability and began to take measures to improve it. @DFRLab already reported on Russian plans to ban selfies starting January 1, 2018. Now Russia allegedly released a poster-based education initiative. Basic info-security rules were depicted in images and catchy slogans, much like during World War II. @DFRLab analyzed what the Russian military allegedly wants soldiers to know.

The posters have cannot be independently verified as created and posted by the Russian military; however, @DFRLab thoroughly enjoyed analyzing the content.

Educational Innitiative

On November 14, a post appeared on Russian alternative to Facebook, VKontakte, which showed a framed Russian information poster with soldiers on it. On various Russian and Ukrainian forums, users noted that this is one of many military education posters used internally to train Russian soldiers.

Framed poster, possibly in Russian military facility. (Source: VK / User: dkulibin)

The exact date and source of these posters remains unverified, but the bulk of posts appeared on the internet between November 12 and November 14. The posters were most likely made for internal use only, as “enemies” are portrayed as NATO soldiers. Russia’s posters are relatively similar to informational and propaganda posters of the World War II or Cold War eras.

Here is what your employer would allegedly like you to know if you happen to be a Russian soldier.

Russian Military Information Security 101

1. “Don’t say too much — protect the state secrets carefully!”

Russian Military poster #1. (Source: VK / User: dkulibin)

The first poster advises not to talk about sensitive matters in public spaces, especially wearing a military uniform. Casual conversations with sensitive details can be overheard by third parties.

2. “Selfies, photos, internet — the enemy awaits you!”

Russian Military poster #2. (Source: VK / User: dkulibin)

This poster indicates background details seen in selfies can reveal sensitive information. This recommendation is closely related with the upcoming “selfie-ban”. Photographs posted by Russian soldiers have provided valuable information and increased transparency about military operations or training numerous times.

3. “In order not to let down the country and to save the secrets — don’t lose the documents from your sight!”

Russian Military poster #3. (Source: VK / User: dkulibin)

A third poster urges soldiers not to leave important documents out of sight. They might be seen, stolen, or simply lost.

4. “Do not trust mobile devices, the enemy can hear everything — don’t chatter online!”

Russian Military poster #4. Left: (Source: VK / User: dkulibin); Top Right: (Source: Pinterest); Bottom Right: (Source: Pinterest)

A fourth poster suggests not to reveal sensitive information using civilian mobile devices. The “enemies” in the poster look fairly similar to U.S. troops and the patch indicates that the hostile soldier serves in NATO Response Forces (NRF).

5. “Work computer is only for work tasks!”

Russian Military poster #5. (Source: VK / User: dkulibin)

This poster points out that work computers must be used only in official work capacity. No gaming, social media, or charging your phone with an USB cable is permitted. The phone portrayed appears to be an iPhone, suggesting that electronics from a U.S.-based company might not be safe.

6. “You need to keep an eye on the documents when transferring them, in order not to lose them!”

Russian Military poster #6. (Source: VK / User: dkulibin)

The sixth poster recommends to keep a close eye on the documents while transporting them.

7. “Be responsible in the ranks, during service and in battle!”

Russian Military poster #7. Left: (Source: VK / User: dkulibin); Right: (Source: Pinterest)

The seventh poster urges to be responsible with taking pictures — be it in the barracks or in the battle. The poster suggests that photos sent using civilian devices might be intercepted by NATO.

8. “When you are giving documents to someone — know, sign, and check!”

Russian Military poster #8. (Source: VK / User: dkulibin)

This poster recommends careful attention while passing on documents to others. This process should be documented, signed, and the person who you are giving the documents to should be trusted.

9. “Don’t transfer information, protect your geolocation!”

Russian Military poster #9. Left: (Source: Pikabu), Right: (Source: Pinterest)

Poster nine suggests that using mobile devices with GPS function on the battlefield or training ground can give away geolocations, as well as key operational details. The poster suggests that geotags could reveal locations of friendly units to NATO.

10. “Be alert and don’t be wiretapped, soldier!”

Russian Military poster #10. Left: (Source: Pikabu); Top Right: (Source: DailyMail); Bottom Right: (Source: Pinterest)

Poster ten argues that civilian mobile devices might be tapped by NATO. The NATO Response Force soldier wears an uniform fairly similar to the ones used by the United Kingdom’s military.

11. “All additional electronic devices must be left at checkpoints!”

Russian Military poster #11. (Source: Pikabu)

Poster eleven recommends leaving all the unnecessary electronic devices at nearest checkpoints.

12. “Don’t leave documents on the table, lock them in a safe!”

Russian Military poster #12. (Source: Tochkakipeniya)

The twelth implies that all documents not in use should be kept in a safe. Leaving documents in the open increases risk of espionage.

13. “If you disable antivirus software — you are giving away secrets to the enemy!”

Russian Military poster #13. (Source: Tochkakipeniya)

The thirteenth poster suggests not to turn off antivirus software in order to protect against malware. One interesting detail in the poster — the preferred antivirus software used by the soldiers is Kaspersky Labs, which is a Russian company that recently had all of its contracts with the United States government ended due to suspected espionage.

14.”Inform your commander about provocations in any situation!”

Russian Military poster #14. Left: (Source: Tochkakipeniya); Top Right: (Source: The Local); Bottom Right: (Source: Pinterest)

Poster fourteen urges soldiers to inform their commander about any suspicious activities. The enemy soldier involved in a suspicious act wears an NRF badge and the uniform pattern resembles German camouflage.

15. “Our vigilance is important — it is needed for all employees!”

Russian Military poster #15. (Source: Tochkakipeniya).

The final poster stresses the importance of keeping order in the ranks by advising your fellow soldiers to behave accordingly.

Conclusions

Whether or not the posters were created and posted by the Russian military is immaterial to the fact that Russian military is starting to take information security within wider ranks seriously. This alleged educational initiative most likely serves as a soft measure together with the selfie ban law taking effect on January 1, 2018. If verified, the posters also clearly show that Russian military regard the NATO NRF as potential enemy forces. 
 
 The soldier selfie ban is expected to take effect in January 2018, and @DFRLab will monitor its impact.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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