The head of a leading security-software firm is friends with high-level Russian spies, according to a report from Bloomberg.
The company's connections to the Kremlin have long been known and reported on, but Bloomberg reports that several executives have been replaced with people closely aligned with Russia's military and intelligence operations.
Kaspersky Lab's founder and CEO, Eugene Kaspersky, used to work for the KGB and reportedly maintains relationships with former and current Russian intelligence officials.
"Unless Kaspersky is traveling, he rarely misses a weekly banya (sauna) night with a group of about 5 to 10 that usually includes Russian intelligence officials," Bloomberg writes. "Kaspersky says in an interview that the group saunas are purely social: 'When I go to banya, they’re friends.'"
Kaspersky Lab has reportedly aided some of the Russian government's criminal investigations by handing over data from customers who used the company's software, which is favored by the likes of Best Buy and Amazon, according to Bloomberg.
Kaspersky insists that Russian intelligence officials can't associate that data with individual customers, but sources who spoke to Bloomberg said the data can be altered to gather identifying information from users.
In any case, it's unsettling that a major cybersecurity company serving millions of people (including Americans) is working so closely with a country that harbors some of world's top hackers.
The most significant implication of Bloomberg's report is that while Kaspersky often goes after foreign hackers, the company looks the other way when it comes to malicious figures on its own turf.
And Kaspersky Lab's services go beyond antivirus software — as Wired wrote in a 2012, the company is a "leader in uncovering cyber-espionage." Except, perhaps, when it comes from Russia itself.
"While Kaspersky Lab has published a series of reports that examined alleged electronic espionage by the U.S., Israel, and the U.K., the company hasn’t pursued alleged Russian operations with the same vigor," Bloomberg reports, noting that Kaspersky released a detailed report about presumed NSA spying on countries including Iran, Russia, and Pakistan but has not detailed any of Russia's many cyber-espionage campaigns.
It's important to note that similar companies in the US have aided intelligence agencies there.
But what also concerns critics about Kaspersky, on top of his personal connections, are statements he's made about his visions for the future of cybersecurity. Wired reports that Kaspersky supports government regulation of social networks, claiming that there's "too much freedom" on these channels.
"Freedom is good," Wired quotes him as saying, referring to sites like Facebook. "But the bad guys — they can abuse this freedom to manipulate public opinion."
Kaspersky's position and opinions, as explained by Noah Schactman in Wired, encapsulates "the paradox of Eugene Kaspersky: a close associate of the autocratic Putin regime who is charged with safeguarding the data of millions of Americans; a supposedly-retired intelligence officer who is busy today revealing the covert activities of other nations; a vital presence in the open and free Internet who doesn’t want us to be too free."
Back in 2012, Kaspersky responded to Wired's report, writing on his website: "Kaspersky Lab is a private international company that registered its holding in Great Britain in 2006. This means that our financial reporting is transparent and freely available to anyone. I think we can all agree that her majesty's laws are strong and respected worldwide. Our affairs there have nothing to do with the Kremlin."
Bloomberg reports that Kaspersky Lab has been having a hard time getting US federal contracts, but Kaspersky himself doesn't seem too concerned about the skepticism surrounding his company's ties to the Kremlin.
"I'm not the right person to talk about Russian realities, because I live in cyberspace," he told Bloomberg.
That is, presumably, when he isn't at the sauna.
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