Russia wants 2 million phones with home-grown Aurora OS for use by officials

Russia’s telecom giant Rostelecom is planning to provide government officials with mobile phones running on the Aurora operating system — a domestic alternative to Western software.

The Russian government is in talks with the company over the potential acquisition of up to 2 million mobile devices running on the Aurora OS over the next three years, Rostelecom's senior vice president Kirill Menshov told the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday.

His statement was made on the same day that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) accused U.S. intelligence of hacking “thousands of Apple phones” to spy on Russian diplomats.

Russia has long accused the U.S. of "global surveillance." According to reports from Russian media, the Russian president's administration instructed its employees in March to exchange iPhones for smartphones of other brands with a different operating system.

The Kremlin also reportedly announced at the time that it would purchase new secure phones for its employees to ease the transition away from American technology.

Last year, the government also recommended its employees stop using foreign services like Zoom and WhatsApp for official communications. Instead, they were advised to switch to domestic platforms like VK for messaging and TrueConf for video conferencing.

In a statement released yesterday, the FSB claimed that Apple doesn’t protect the privacy of user data and is cooperating with U.S. intelligence to spy on the Russians — a claim Apple denied.

Russia's Linux-based Aurora operating system was developed by Rostelecom in 2016 primarily for business and government use. In 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed it to expand its use to healthcare and educational facilities.

As described on its website, Aurora gives customers complete control over data processing and complies with Russia’s government security guidelines.

Russia's push to promote domestic technology also reflects the weight of sanctions imposed on Moscow due to the war in Ukraine, which have caused a massive exodus of tech companies from the country.

“Russia needs its own mobile ecosystem because sanctions can affect any Western developments,” Menshov told Russian media last year. “American operating systems have already restricted access to critical Russian mobile applications, disabled the ability to make payments using Russian bank cards, and halted monetization.”

Aurora, however, “is completely independent of any foreign influence and is ready to scale,” he said.

According to Rostelecom, the Aurora system is currently being used by the Russian government, as well as various state-connected businesses, including the national postal service, the state-owned railway company, as well as energy companies.

Since 2016, the country has produced more than 500,000 devices running on the Aurora system, according to Menshov. Aurora’s development cost is expected to reach around $6 billion dollars by 2030.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.