How a digital Cold War with Russia could threaten the IT industry

Summary:What would an escalation of tensions mean for the future of our relationships with Russian software companies, developers, and strategically outsourced tech talent?

These are only just a few examples. There are numerous Russian software firms generating billions of dollars of revenue which have products and services that have significant enterprise penetration in the United States, EMEA and Asia. There are also many smaller ones which perform niche or specialized services, such as subcontracting.

It should also be noted that a great deal of mobile apps, including entertainment software for iOS, Android and Windows also originate from Russia.

We aren't even counting the giant technology companies in the software and technology services industries that are household names in the United States and EMEA which due to the excellent reputation of Russian developers producing high-quality and value-priced work compared to their US and Western Europe-based counterparts, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in having developer as well as reseller channel presence in Russia. 

Contractor H-1Bs are almost certainly going to be cancelled en-masse or will not be renewed for Russian nationals performing work for US-based corporations. You can count on it.

The Obama administration does not need to levy Iran-style isolationist sanctions against Russia for a snowball effect to start within US corporations that use Russian software or services.

The cooling of relations has already made C-seats within corporate America extremely concerned about using software that originates from Russia or has been produced by Russian nationals. The most conservative of companies almost certainly will probably just "rip and replace" most off-the-shelf stuff and go with other solutions, preferably American ones.

The Russian mobile apps? BYOD blacklist MDM policies will wall them off from being installed on any device that can access a corporate network. And if sanctions are put in place by the current or next administration, we can expect them to actually disappear off the mobile device stores entirely.

Never mind the disappearance of everyone's beloved Flappy Bird. Cut the Rope, which is made by Moscow-based Zeptolab, and countless games and apps originating from Russia could be no more if actual sanctions are put in place. 

But America's C-seats aren't going to wait for the current administration to levy sanctions. If there is any lack of confidence in a vendor's trustworthiness, or if there is any concern that their customer loyalty can be swapped out or influenced by the Putin regime and used to compromise their own systems you can be assured that software of Russian origin is going to disappear very quickly from US IT infrastructure.

Contractor H-1Bs are almost certainly going to be cancelled en-masse or will not be renewed for Russian nationals performing work for US-based corporations. You can count on it.

As a Jewish American of mixed Russian, Belarussian, Polish and Ukrainian ethnicity it pains me to say all of these things and to subscribe to what could be classified as new-age McCarthyist paranoia, but I'm only saying out loud what many CEOs, CTOs and CIOs are thinking privately and in the sanctity of their own plush corporate offices. 

Any vendor that is being considered for a large software contract with a US company is going to undergo significant scrutiny, and will be asked if any of their product involved Russian developers. If it doesn't pass the most basic of audits and sniff tests they can just forget about doing business in this country, period.

So if a vendor does have prominent Russian developer headcount, they will have to pack up shop and move those labs back to the US or country that is better aligned with US interests. This goes especially for anybody wanting to do Federal contract work as well.

But then there is the issue of custom code produced by outsourced firms. That gets a lot trickier.

Obviously, there's the question of how recent the code is, and whether or not there are good methods in place to audit it. We can expect that there will be services products offered in the near future by US and Western European IT firms to pour through vast amounts of custom code so that they can be absolutely sure there are no backdoor compromises left behind by Russian nationals under the influence of the Putin regime.

If you thought your Y2K mitigation was expensive, wait until your enterprise experiences the Russian Purge.

I don't have to tell any of you just how expensive a proposition this is. The wealthiest corporations, sensing a huge risk to security and customer confidence will address this as quickly as they can and will swallow the bitter pill of costly audits.

But many companies may not have the immediate funds to do it and will try their best to mitigate the risk on their own, and compromised code may sit around for years until major system migrations occur and the old code gets (hopefully) flushed out.

We will be almost certainly be dealing with Russian cyberattacks from within the walls of our own companies for years to come, from software that was originally developed under the auspices of having access to relatively cheap and highly-skilled strategically outsourced programmer talent.  

My greatest hope is that cooler heads will prevail and Vladimir Putin will step away from the brink of a new Cold War, one that will be not only destructive in terms of turning back over 30 years of partnership between our two nations since the fall of the Soviet Union, but also one which will yield tremendous amounts of economic damage for his country as well as ours.

Will Russian software and services become the first victim in a new Cold War? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Cloud, Data Centers, Enterprise Software, Security, Developer


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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