Russian military moves closer to replacing Windows with Astra Linux

The Chinese military is also working on a similar plan to replace Windows with a custom OS.

Astra Linux

Image: RusBITech

Russian authorities have moved closer to implementing their plan of replacing the Windows OS on military systems with a locally-developed operating system named Astra Linux.

Last month, the Russian Federal Service for Technical and Export Control (FSTEC) granted Astra Linux the security clearance of "special importance," which means the OS can now be used to handle Russian government information of the highest degree of secrecy.

Until now, the Russian government had only used special versions of Windows that had been modified, checked, and approved for use by the FSB.

What is Astra Linux?

But starting last month, the Russian military can now start transitioning to Astra Linux, a Debian derivative developed by Russian company RusBITech since 2008.

RusBITech initially developed the OS for use in the Russian private market, but the company also expanded into the local government sector, where it became very popular with military contractors.

A few years back, the OS received certifications to handle Russian government information labeled as "secret" and "top secret" --two data secrecy levels situated underneath "special importance" according to Russian law.

Since then, Astra Linux has slowly made its way into government agencies and is currently in use at the Russian National Center for Defence Control, among various other government and military agencies.

Already used by the Russian military

In January 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced plans to transfer military systems from the Windows OS to Astra Linux, citing fears that Microsoft's closed-source approach might hide Windows backdoors that can be abused by US intelligence to spy on Russian government operations.

Since then, RusBITech has been going through the Russian government's certification process to get a "special importance" classification for Astra Linux -- which it did, on April 17, according to two local media reports [1, 2].

In addition to the FSTEC certification, Astra Linux also received certificates of conformity from the FSB, Russia's top intelligence agency, and the Ministry of Defense, opening the door for full adoption by Russia's top military and intelligence agencies.

The certification was granted for Astra Linux Special Edition version 1.6, also known as the Smolensk release, per local reports. This is a commercial (paid) release.

The news comes after earlier this week it was reported that the Chinese military was taking similar steps to replace the Windows OS on military systems amid fears of US hacking. The Chinese military didn't go for a Linux distro but instead alluded to plans of developing a custom OS instead.

Related government coverage: