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Cracking Down on Dissent, Russia Seeds a Surveillance Supply Chain

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As the war in Ukraine unfolded last year, Russia’s best digital spies turned to new tools to fight an enemy on another front: those inside its own borders who opposed the war.

To aid an internal crackdown, Russian authorities had amassed an arsenal of technologies to track the online lives of citizens. After it invaded Ukraine, its demand grew for more surveillance tools. That helped stoke a cottage industry of tech contractors, which built products that have become a powerful — and novel — means of digital surveillance.

The technologies have given the police and Russia’s Federal Security Service, better known as the F.S.B., access to a buffet of snooping capabilities focused on the day-to-day use of phones and websites. The tools offer ways to track certain kinds of activity on encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Signal, monitor the locations of phones, identify anonymous social media users and break into people’s accounts, according to documents from Russian surveillance providers obtained by The New York Times, as well as security experts, digital activists and a person…

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