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Kaspersky Lab comes under scrutiny again

Kaspersky Lab comes under scrutiny againEugene Kaspersky, CEO, and founder of cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation launched by the FBI in 2012, and was reportedly asked to become an informant for the agency—an offer he declined. It’s believed the investigation did not yield any evidence to back suspicions, but that has not prevented those concerns from persisting.

Much of the concern about Kaspersky Lab stems from Kaspersky’s own background. The cyber security expert attended a school run by the KGB—the primary security agency for the Soviet Union—and worked for Russia’s Ministry of Defense. In a profile of Kaspersky that was published in Wired in 2012, the security company executive was described as a possible “tool of the Kremlin” because of his ties to the Russian Federal Security Service and his training at KGB-sponsored schools.

Earlier this year, the Russian government charged an employee of Kaspersky Lab—along with two officers in the Federal Security Service—with treason for allegedly cooperating with the U.S. government.

Internal emails from Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab published by Bloomberg Businessweek suggest the company has much closer ties to the Russian government and intelligence agencies than it has previously claimed.

A number of emails, dated October 2009, shows a conversation between Kaspersky Lab founder and CEO Eugene Kaspersky and senior staff at the company. Within the messages, Kaspersky details a project the company undertook at the apparent request of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation.

In the emails, Kaspersky describes the project, done in secret during the year prior, as a “big request on the Lubyanka side.” According to Bloomberg, Kaspersky was referencing a piece of software developed by his security company designed to protect against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The software was used by a number of clients including Russian government organizations.

In addition to creating the security tool, Kaspersky reportedly agreed to work with internet hosting companies to spot bad actors and work to block their attacks. Kaspersky advised his staff to keep secret the “active countermeasures” taken by the security firm.

“The project includes both technology to protect against attacks (filters) as well as interaction with the posters (‘spreading’ of sacrifice) and active countermeasures (about which, we keep quiet) and so on,” Kaspersky wrote, while also stating the company planned to turn the DDoS protection into a product sold to businesses—which it has since started to do.

The countermeasures in question reportedly go beyond the type of service a cybersecurity company would provide. According to Bloomberg, Kaspersky’s anti-DDoS software provided the FSB with real-time intelligence monitoring on the location of an attacker. The firm also sent experts with FSB agents to conduct raids at the homes of the supposed attackers.

The project lead on the DDoS service was Kaspersky Lab chief legal officer Igor Chekunov, who once served as a member of law enforcement and worked for the KGB. He is also believed to be in charge of offering support to the FSB and other Russian agencies, including helping gather data and identify attackers.

Another Kaspersky Lab employee, Ruslan Stoyanov, supposedly helped develop the technology that was used in the anti-DDoS software. Stoyanov also reportedly rode along with Russian agents on raids and previously worked for the Russia’s Interior Ministry’s cybercrime unit. Stoyanov and a senior FSB cyber investigator were arrested earlier this year by the Russian government and charged with treason for supposedly cooperating with the U.S. government.

“When statements are taken out of context, anything can be manipulated to serve an agenda,” the company told Bloomberg.

“Kaspersky Lab has always acknowledged that it provides appropriate products and services to governments around the world to protect those organizations from cyberthreats, but it does not have any unethical ties or affiliations with any government, including Russia.”

Kaspersky said he would allow the United States government examine the source code of his company’s products to prove Kaspersky Lab has no ties to the Russian government. The security firm’s CEO expressed willingness to comply with the U.S. government after his company has come under fire from some U.S. officials for what they perceive to be uncomfortably close connections between Kaspersky and the Kremlin.

“If the United States needs, we can disclose the source code,” Kaspersky told the Associated Press. “Anything I can do to prove that we don’t behave maliciously I will do it.” He also offered to testify before U.S. lawmakers.

Kaspersky’s apparent cooperation comes after increased scrutiny has been applied to his company. U.S. intelligence officials have advised Congress avoid using Kaspersky products, and lawmakers have started to weigh the possibility of banning the company from the Pentagon over fears of involvement from the Russian government.

The pressure on Kaspersky and his security firm escalated recently when the FBI reportedly visited the homes of more than one dozen U.S. employees of Kaspersky. The CEO confirmed those visits happened but he was not aware as to what the agency was pursuing.

According to Kaspersky, the visits will make it difficult for the company to maintain a relationship with the FBI, which it has done to serve as a go-between when cooperation is required by Russian and American law enforcement. “Unfortunately, now the links to the FBI are completely ruined,” he told the AP.

U.S. officials are concerned that Russian spies may attempt to target Americans and U.S.-based systems using Kaspersky Lab, a Russia-based cybersecurity firm, according to a report from ABC News. In secret memorandum described to ABC News and sent last month from the Senate Intelligence Committee to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, there is concern that Kaspersky Lab may be at risk of being compromised. The letter urged the intelligence community to address risks posed by the Russian-based security company. The memorandum reportedly considered the potential risk posed by Kaspersky products an “important national security issue.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s concerned is backed by the Department of Homeland Security, which issued a secret report on Kaspersky Lab to other government agencies in February. The FBI is also investigating ties between Kaspersky Lab and the Russian government, according to ABC News.

U.S. officials are reportedly concerned about the past of several Kaspersky Lab executives, who previously worked for Russian intelligence and military agencies. At the heart of the concern is that the security tools could potentially provide access to state-sponsored hackers, who could target individuals or larger entities that count on Kaspersky software.

The greatest risk, according to experts, is the possibility that Kaspersky Lab products help facilitate a Russian cyber attack aimed at power grids and other key areas of infrastructure within the U.S. Kaspersky, for its part, continues to hold that it does not have any “inappropriate” links with the Russian government and said its products are safe to use. “Kaspersky Lab does not develop any offensive techniques and has never helped nor will help any government in the world with their offensive efforts in cyberspace,” the company said in a statement.

Sergiy Korsunskyi
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