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The West wonders: is Kaspersky a Russian cyberwarfare threat?

As the West mounts a united response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there are cases where some believe sanctions and national security may go hand-in-hand. One such case is Kaspersky. Throughout the West, governments and corporations are asking themselves just how deep this cybersecurity giant’s ties to the Russian government are.

The West wonders: is Kaspersky a Russian cyberwarfare threat?

What is happening with Kaspersky?

Kaspersky is a leading cybersecurity company that is practically a household name around the world. From consumer antiviruses to large-scale endpoint security and other cybersecurity solutions, they operate at all levels of society. But the headquarters of this international company are in Moscow, and the company bears the family name of its Russian co-founder and CEO, Eugene Kaspersky.

In an effort to put pressure on Russia to halt its aggression against Ukraine, governments around the world are reviewing their connections to Russia on every level. It was inevitable, then, that they would notice Kaspersky as well.

Germany has led the charge against Kaspersky. In a national notice recommending the replacement of Kaspersky with other cybersecurity products, the German Federal Office for Information Security writes:

“The warlike actions of Russia as well as the threats made against the EU, NATO, and the Federal Republic of Germany harbor a considerable risk of a successful IT attack, which could have far-reaching consequences. It cannot currently be ruled out that the company will be forced against its will to attack systems or pass on confidential data.”

Italy was also among the first Western nations to raise alarm bells, recommending government institutions and the public choose different programs.

But does Kaspersky actually represent a threat?

The case against Kaspersky

Kaspersky’s CEO has accused the company’s detractors of making a purely political decision:

“We believe this decision is not based on a technical assessment of Kaspersky products[…] but instead is being made on political grounds. We will continue to assure our partners and customers in the quality and integrity of our products…”

And indeed, Germany and Italy have stated that they have not detected any foul play yet.

So why don’t they trust Kaspersky? There are a few reasons:

  • Russia has cyber warfare experience: The Russian government has used cyber warfare successfully in the past. In fact, some even suspect that Russia may have meddled in at least two US elections. So if the Russian government were to decide to force Kaspersky to do its bidding, it could probably do so to great effect.
  • Russia is at war: Russia has called Western sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine “an act of war.” It would not be hard to imagine, then, that Russia may see Kaspersky as an asset in its hour of need. In 2018, Kaspersky announced that some of its core infrastructure would be moved from Moscow to Switzerland, but not all of it. The company’s headquarters are still in Moscow, so it may still be vulnerable to government pressure.
  • Kaspersky has been suspected of espionage and government connections before the war: Russian government hackers are suspected of having used Kaspersky in 2015 to steal undisclosed software from a US NSA contractor’s laptop. Analysts have accused the company of gradually replacing its leadership in Moscow with government-affiliated military and national security experts. The CEO, Eugene Kaspersky, has worked with the Russian military in the past and went to a Russian military school funded by the KGB. These connections are enough to warrant suspicion.

Should you still use Kaspersky?

Kaspersky is right to note that their detractors’ criticisms have a political element, but that may be enough for some users. Many in the West are currently reducing their dependence on companies whose tax dollars help fund Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, this alone is not an indictment of Kaspersky’s dependability as a cybersecurity company.

As of right now, we haven’t seen any publicly available evidence of ongoing collaboration between Kaspersky and Russia’s government. However, its past connections and its current exposure to the Russian government may cause many to think twice before trusting their cybersecurity apps. If this is how you feel, there are many other capable and trustworthy cybersecurity providers to choose from.

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