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- Jack Ryan
March 20, 2015, 2:19 am
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The Company Securing Your Internet Has Close Ties to Russian Spies
Kaspersky Lab has published reports on alleged electronic espionage by
the U.S., Israel, and the U.K.?but it?s yet to look at Russia
Kaspersky Lab sells security software, including antivirus programs
recommended by big-box stores and other U.S. PC retailers. The Moscow-
based company ranks sixth in revenue among security-software makers,
taking in $667 million in 2013, and is a favorite among Best Buy?s
Geek Squad technicians and reviewers on Amazon.com. Founder and Chief
Executive Officer Eugene Kaspersky used to work for the KGB, and in
2007, one of the company?s Japanese ad campaigns used the slogan ?A
Specialist in Cryptography from KGB.? The sales tactic, a local
partner?s idea, was ?quickly removed by headquarters,? according to
Kaspersky Lab, as the company recruited senior managers in the U.S.
and Europe to expand its business and readied an initial public
offering with a U.S. investment firm.
In 2012, however, Kaspersky Lab abruptly changed course. Since then,
high-level managers have left or been fired, their jobs often filled
by people with closer ties to Russia?s military or intelligence
services. Some of these people actively aid criminal investigations by
the FSB, the KGB?s successor, using data from some of the 400 million
customers who rely on Kaspersky Lab?s software, say six current and
former employees who declined to discuss the matter publicly because
they feared reprisals. This closeness starts at the top: Unless
Kaspersky is traveling, he rarely misses a weekly banya (sauna) night
with a group of about 5 to 10 that usually includes Russian
intelligence officials. Kaspersky says in an interview that the group
saunas are purely social: ?When I go to banya, they?re friends.?
Kaspersky says government officials can?t associate his company?s data
with individual customers and that he hasn?t had to worry about
increased pressure to demonstrate loyalty to Vladimir Putin. ?I?m not
the right person to talk about Russian realities, because I live in
cyberspace,? he says.
Nonetheless, while Kaspersky Lab has published a series of reports
that examined alleged electronic espionage by the U.S., Israel, and
the U.K., the company hasn?t pursued alleged Russian operations with
the same vigor. In February, Kaspersky Lab researchers released a
remarkably detailed report about the tactics of a hacker collective
known as the Equation Group, which has targeted Russia, Iran, and
Pakistan, and which cybersecurity analysts believe to be a cover for
the U.S. National Security Agency. Kaspersky Lab hasn?t issued a
similar report about Russia?s links to sophisticated spyware known as
Sofacy, which has attacked NATO and foreign ministries in Eastern
Europe. Sofacy was reported on last fall by U.S. cybersecurity company
While Kaspersky Lab is the most prominent cybersecurity business with
close ties to the Russian government, that affinity with the country?s
spooks reflects a yearslong shift by security companies toward
choosing sides. Most major security-software makers work with the U.S.
in some capacity. Any government relationships can make a company?s
products harder to sell in a paranoid global marketplace, says Rick
Holland, principal analyst of security and risk management for
Forrester Research. ?It?s a challenge for any security company out
there,? Holland says. ?What are your ties to government??
Kaspersky Lab?s ties dramatically increased after two waves of
executive departures, say four of the former insiders. The first came
in 2012, after Kaspersky scotched an IPO partnership with Greenwich
(Conn.) investment firm General Atlantic. Afterward, Chief Business
Officer Garry Kondakov circulated an internal e-mail saying that from
then on, the company?s highest positions would be held only by
Russians, say two people who saw the e-mail. Board meetings, once
conducted in English, were now in Russian. The company denies that the
e-mail was ever sent.
In 2014 after a handful of senior managers, including Chief Technology
Officer Nikolay Grebennikov and North American President Steve
Orenberg, asked Kaspersky to consider appointing a new CEO and
retaining only the chairmanship of the company, he fired them.
Chief Legal Officer Igor Chekunov, who regularly joins Kaspersky?s
banya nights, is the point man for the company?s work with the Russian
government, three of the insiders say. Since 2013 he has managed a
team of 10 specialists who study data from customers who have been
hacked and provide technical support to the FSB and other Russian
agencies. The team can access data directly from any of the company?s
systems. While Kaspersky Lab?s managing director for North America,
Christopher Doggett, says its data are anonymous, two people familiar
with the technology say it can be altered to gather identifying
information from individual computers and has been used to aid the FSB
in investigations. Chekunov had no biography on the company website
prior to a query from Bloomberg Businessweek. Spokeswoman Sarah Kitsos
says he served as a policeman after working in the KGB?s border
FireEye shows how these relationships work in the U.S. The company was
guided early on by the CIA, which uses its technology and for years
maintained a stake in the company through the agency?s investment arm,
In-Q-Tel. FireEye has revealed Chinese and Russian hacking but has yet
to do a major report calling out spying by the U.S. Although FireEye
CEO David DeWalt praised Kaspersky Lab?s Equation Group report, he
wouldn?t say whether his company is researching the group. ?Is it any
mystery what origins they have and who probably fed them these
information sources?? he says. ?You look at all of that, and you just
go, ?Hey, this is the reality we?re in now.? ?
In head-to-head tests, Kaspersky Lab?s software still performs well
against competitors. ?The techies love us,? Doggett says. But the
ruble?s slide will likely dent the company?s 2014 earnings, which it
posts in dollars online. More important, Kaspersky has struggled to
win federal U.S. contracts. ?There?s a cyber isolationism that?s
definitely emerging,? says Holland, the Forrester analyst. ?They have
to overcome any perceived or actual alliances.?
The bottom line: Popular security-software maker Kaspersky Lab has
close ties to Russian military and intelligence officials.
Re: Has Kaspersky Sold Out To Russian Intelligence?
And ... ?
I'd be more worried with AVs with close ties to the NSA. For
the time being, the Russians don't seem to be doing much with whatever
they datamine. In the US you can be put on no-fly lists, have vetoes
to job applications amongst other problems.
I'd rather be datamined by the Chinese than the Russians, and
the Russians than the Americans.
Which is why I don't use an AV
Don't be evil - Google 2004
We have a new policy - Google 2012