US ‘orchestrated’ Russian spies scandal, says Kaspersky founder
Eugene Kaspersky, chief executive and co-founder of the embattled Russian cybersecurity firm that bears his name, believes his company is at the centre of a “designed and orchestrated attack” to destroy its reputation.
Over a short period in the summer of 2017, Kaspersky Labs was the subject of multiple media reports alleging that the company had helped Russian intelligence agencies spy on the US, a number of FBI raids on staff members, and a nationwide ban on the use of its software by federal government agencies.
“This media attack and government attack from the United States, it was designed and orchestrated,” Mr Kaspersky said at a press conference in London on 28 November. “Because at the same time, there was government, there was FBI, there was media attack. That is expensive … I mean all kinds of resources: political influence, money, lobbyists, the media etc.”
When asked directly whether he had ever been asked to help Russian intelligence agencies spy on the US, Kaspersky vehemently denied any such conversations had ever happened saying: “They have never asked us to spy on people. Never.”
“If the Russian government comes to me and asks me to do anything wrong, I will move the business out of Russia,” he added. “We never helped the espionage agencies, the Russians or any other nation.”
Kaspersky claimed that previous media coverage of the company “mixed the truth and non-truth” to give a misleading impression of its relationship with the Russian government. Citing one headline, which noted that the company “has been working with Russian intelligence”, he noted that the FSB, Russia’s intelligence agency, is also in charge of responding to cybercrime incidents.
“Everything is correct here. We assist Russian intelligence to investigate cybercrime. FSB in Russia is responsible for [dealing with] high-profile cybercrime and for international investigation. When there is international cybercrime, including [when] Russian gangs are investigated, that’s FSB doing the job, and of course we assist them.”
Referring to the events of the summer as “Code Wars II” (and suggesting that the first “Code Wars” occurred in 2012, when a Wired article accused the firm of “helping Kremlin pals”), Mr Kaspersky reiterated his firm’s explanation for how its antivirus software ended up transporting the source code to an NSA hacking tool from the computer of a contractor in Virginia to the company’s research centre in Moscow.
He said the contractor had installed Kaspersky’s antivirus software on their personal computer, and that the antivirus had discovered an unknown malware sample in its routine scans. Since the contractor had opted in to a Kaspersky service that uploads new viruses to the company, to aid in improving defence for others, Mr Kaspersky says the malware was then uploaded to his company’s researchers, alongside its “other components” found in the same folder.
At that point, said Mr Kaspersky, the researcher realised they were looking at NSA code, and informed him directly. “I told him, ‘don’t watch this IP address any more’,” he said.
Later, according to the company’s retroactive investigation of the events, the contractor disabled the antivirus and attempted to install a pirated version of Microsoft Office, which contained an active piece of malware that provided a backdoor in to their computer. A week later, the contractor re-enabled the antivirus, which detected and shut down the infection.
According to Kaspersky, the direct government ban would have little effect on his company’s revenue, since US federal contracts accounted for less than $25,000 of income. But the broader media climate would affect the bottom line: revenue in North America would be about 5 to 8% lower this fiscal year than last year as a result of the US accusations, he said. Elsewhere, he predicted, revenue in Europe is expected to be flat while revenue in the rest of the world would continue to see double-digit growth.
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