Kaspersky Lab: Based In Russia, Doing Cybersecurity In The West
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And it's time for All Tech Considered.
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BLOCK: Today, we're talking about computer security. One of the leading companies offering protection from malware and online crime is run by a Russian entrepreneur named Eugene Kaspersky. And before we go on, we should note that Kaspersky Lab is a corporate sponsor of NPR News's programming. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports that, given the current tensions between Russia and the West, Kaspersky's ties to the Russian government have come into question.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Computer security is a boring subject when it's working. When it doesn't work, the results might be as catastrophic as anything imagined in Hollywood action movies - like this one, "Die Hard 4."
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: FAA just issued a critical alert. The entire network went down.
ZELJKO IVANEK: (As Agent Molina) Transportation system's crashing and they just hit the entire financial sector.
TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: (As Thomas Gabriel) You have no idea who you're dealing with.
FLINTOFF: The 2007 thriller featured Bruce Willis fighting an evil cyber genius and lots of stuff blowing up. Eugene Kaspersky told The Guardian newspaper that he didn't like that movie because the fiction recalled his own real fears about cyberterrorism. His firm, Kaspersky Labs, has been a leader in the cybersecurity business, in part, because it draws on Russian cyber engineering skills.
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EUGENE KASPERSKY: Russia is very rich of software engineers thanks to Russian technical education system. And, actually, Russian software engineers are the best.
FLINTOFF: Kaspersky made that comment in a March interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, saying it was a quote made to him by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
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KASPERSKY: But other side of the coin is that Russian cybercriminals are the worst as well. I am sorry.
FLINTOFF: Kaspersky himself is a product of the Soviet system, studying cryptography and math at the KGB Higher School. The KGB was the Soviet security service. Kaspersky Labs says its chief never worked for the KGB. After graduation, he worked for a few years for a Soviet military research institute, but left in 1991 for the private sector.
ANDREI SOLDATOV: What happened next is that he became more and more associated with Russian secretive services to help them to catch some cybercriminals, helping to provide security for some very important projects.
FLINTOFF: That's Andrei Soldatov, co-author of "The Red Web," a book on Russian cybersecurity. Kaspersky wasn't available to be interviewed for this story. Kaspersky Labs says that while it has worked with Russian authorities fighting cybercrime, it's cooperated with other law enforcement agencies, too, including Interpol. Brian Krebs is an American reporter who blogs on cybersecurity. He says he, like NPR, runs Kaspersky programs on his computer systems, and he's not worried about the potential for spying.
BRIAN KREBS: If Kaspersky was found to somehow be acting at the behest of the Russian government to somehow spy on its customers, I think they would pretty much be out of business overnight.
FLINTOFF: Krebs says he met Kaspersky at his lab in Moscow in 2011 and found him to be an extremely intelligent, funny and generous man, but reluctant to talk about Russian cybercriminals.
KREBS: And to my surprise, nobody there would talk to me about these guys, not even Eugene. And that kind of took me aback a little bit. Maybe I was a little naive in expecting these people to stick their necks out a little bit.
FLINTOFF: In its March report, Bloomberg said that while Kaspersky's company has exposed malware it says comes from Western governments, it hasn't gone after Russian viruses with the same vigor. Kaspersky Labs says that's a false accusation and that the company goes after all forms of malware, regardless of their origins. It cites a list of 11 reports it's published on malware that's been found to contain Russian language elements in its code. The list includes programs with nicknames such as Red October, Black Energy and Team Spy. Kaspersky says he now runs an international company, not just Russian, and he resents that the U.S. government restricts its business to American security companies. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.