Kaspersky Lab CEO and founder Eugene Kaspersky has reacted angrily to claims made in a Wired article that he might have compromised his company's independence by becoming too close to Russia's Government and FSB intelligence service.
The gist of Noah Shachtman's long-form Russia’s Top Cyber Sleuth Foils US Spies, Helps Kremlin Pals is that Kaspersky has a hidden agenda that lines up conveniently with the Russian state; digital passports should be issued centrally, less anonymity allowed for users, and certainly no Facebook or social media.
“These are not exactly comforting words from a man who is responsible for the security of so many of our PCs, tablets, and smartphones,” wrote Shachtman of Kaspersky's views on such topics. “But that is the paradox of Eugene Kaspersky: a close associate of the autocratic Putin regime who is charged with safeguarding the data of millions of Americans.”
Such closeness not only extends to helping the FSB catch criminals but might provide a motive for the company's recent exposure of the US Government's alleged Flame malware project used to attack and disrupt Iran's nuclear programme.
“But Kaspersky’s rise is particularly notable - and to some, downright troubling - given his KGB-sponsored training, his tenure as a Soviet intelligence officer, his alliance with Vladimir Putin’s regime, and his deep and ongoing relationship with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB,” Shachtman said.
Under the heading What Wired Is Not Telling You – a Response to Noah Shachtman’s Article in Wired Magazine, Kaspersky expresses his unhappiness with this analysis.
“For sure I was surprised to read such an article from a journalist who, up until Monday, always seemed to maintain the highest of professional and ethical standards,” wrote Kaspersky in reply.
“And it goes without saying that, on behalf of my company and our 2400+ employees around the world, I have to object to Mr. Shachtman’s litany of inferences, opinions, omissions and errors.”
He then said that all major antivirus companies worked with local intelligence services, and reiterated that Kaspersky Lab remained an independent vendor.
“Noah Shachtman wants to believe that I’m a spy and Kremlin team member, and that I use my son as bait [during his kidnapping some months ago, referred to in the article]. I guess this could only be due to cold-war paranoia. I honestly can’t think what else it could be. The reality however is much more mundane –I’m just a man who’s “here to save the world,” he added, sarcastically.
Kaspersky certainly seems reluctant to discuss what he did while serving in the Soviet military during the 1980s, but it as a long time ago one might reasonably suggest. Nor is his keeping on good terms with the powers that be in contemporary Russia unexpected or necessarily suspicious - that's what business leaders do in every country, even social democracies, as Shachtman himself admitted.
The profile is far from unflattering in every respect but it remains contentious to paint Kaspersky as a Kremlin stooge who shares its authoritarian views. Many people share his dislike of Facebook and believe Internet anonymity has some downsides.
Did Kaspersky or his company have an ulterior motive for embarrassing the US over Flame? Again, many in the security community expressed their reservations about government-backed malware campaigns. Kaspersky was far from alone in being critical of it and any serious vendor would have exposed malware with such a design.
What is certainly unusual about Kaspersky is the way he, almost uniquely among contemporary antivirus companies, is identified with the company that carries his name. Almost everything he says and does – and doesn't say and do – reflects on the business.
Kaspersky's occasional need to juggle a number of different demands for a Russian-founded (but UK-registered) company reflects the trickiness of this political endeavour.
“And finally, the very mission of our company is to fight cyber-crime all around the world – together with our colleagues in the industry. We don’t do it just because it happens to be our business; we also do it because we believe that protecting the world from malware is critically important and will continue to allow us to live in a better, safer, more open and effective society. It’s our underlying principle by which we stand firmly and always will,” said Kaspersky.