Security software developed by a Russian company and used by multiple U.S. federal agencies was banned by the U.S. government Wednesday amid concerns the company was potentially linked to cyberespionage activities carried out by Russian intelligence services. So, what is Kaspersky Lab software and why has the Russian company come under scrutiny by the U.S. government?
According to reports, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine C. Duke issued a binding operational directive Wednesday that essentially gave all federal civilian agencies a 90-day deadline to identify any and all Kaspersky Lab software currently in use on government networks. The directive then notes all agencies will be expected to remove the software from their systems unless otherwise directed, citing concerns the company may have ties to Russian intelligence services. (Kaspersky Lab has denied having ties to the Kremlin.)
Founded in 1997 by Eugene V. Kaspersky, a man who attended a K.G.B. sponsored-university, the cybersecurity and anti-virus software provider is well-known within the cybersecurity industry. Although there's no exact data available, Kapersky Lab software is thought to be used by many U.S. federal agencies and state governments as well as by ordinary Americans. The company reportedly claims to have more than 400 million users worldwide, according to The New York Times.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said it was "concerned" about ties "certain Kaspersky officials" had to Russian intelligence and other government agencies. The agency also cited concerns with "requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks." While Kaspersky has denied having any dubious or unethical ties with the Kremlin, the Department of Homeland Security isn't backing down from its directive.
"The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security," the Department of Homeland Security's statement said. According to The Washington Post, the move comes a few months after the federal General Services Administration, which oversees government purchasing, pulled Kaspersky Lab from its list of approved vendors and opened the door to speculation and suspicion against the company.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Kaspersky Lab said it was "disappointed" with the Department of Homeland Security's decision.
"No credible evidence has been presented publicly by anyone or any organization as the accusations are based on false allegations and inaccurate assumptions, including claims about the impact of Russian regulations and policies on the company," the statement reads. "Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage or offensive cyber efforts, and it’s disconcerting that a private company can be considered guilty until proven innocent, due to geopolitical issues."
Vice President of Public Relations at Kaspersky Lab Anton Shingarov called the U.S. government's move to ban federal agencies from using Kaspersky Lab software "part of a geopolitical game," ABC News reported. Shingarov also stressed "there is no proof provided of any improper ties to the Russian government."
But the U.S. government isn't the only one taking aim at Kaspersky Lab products. According to The New York Times, electronics retailer Best Buy said it would be pulling all Kaspersky Lab cybersecurity products from its shelves. Office Depot has also said they will cease selling products from Kaspersky Lab. Moreover, the Senate is expected to vote later this week on a defense-spending bill that includes a section which would ban U.S. government agencies from using Kaspersky Lab software.
According to ABC News, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Thursday the move to ban Kaspersky Lab software "cast a shadow over the image of our American colleagues as reliable partners." He reportedly accused the U.S. government of attempting to undercut Kaspersky's competitive edge in the international market.
Kaspersky Lab has said it plans to work with the Department of Homeland Security, which announced Wednesday it would allow the software company to submit a written response addressing or mitigating the agency's concerns.