Russia’s most notorious cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky, is trying to branch out into anti-drone technology and online voting products in order to rehabilitate a business hit by allegations of espionage three years ago.
Eugene Kaspersky, managing director, said in a video interview with the Financial Times that prohibitions on the company’s antivirus software by the UK and US governments in 2017, for security reasons, caused its US sales to drop 25%.
As business growth has stalled in the west, he said Kaspersky will launch systems to help airports or private landlords jam drone signals and blockchain-secured election software “so you can vote for the Prime Minister from your smartphone ”.
Ms Kaspersky touted the anti-drone system in a video demonstration on the company’s website: “Not only are we not just an antivirus company, and not just a software company, we are also now a company that manufactures material too, and sometimes that material is elegant, elegant, beautiful! “
Kaspersky was one of the first private companies to be hit by espionage issues during a time of great power rivalry between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes like Russia and China.
U.S. and European security agencies have for years warned that close business-government relations in Moscow and Beijing make certain commercial products potentially risky for their adversaries.
More recently, this has given rise to a debate among the Five Eyes intelligence exchange nations over whether to allow Huawei to power their 5G networks. So far, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have excluded the Chinese telecommunications company from their 5G deployment, on the grounds that Beijing could force Huawei to spy on communications.
Speaking from Kaspersky’s headquarters overlooking the Moscow Canal, the 55-year-old founder described the fate suffered by his company and Huawei as “words of the same song.”
“In the case of Huawei and in our case, there was no evidence at all, zero, ”he said, arguing that the bans were the result of geopolitical friction rather than malicious activity. Western relations with Russia and China have cooled to the point of being “frozen”, he added.
The effect on his business has been considerable. The US Department of Homeland Security ordered federal agencies to stop using Kaspersky software in 2017 in response to concerns that the Russian Federal Security Service would use it to spy on the US government, with or without knowledge of the business.
Two months later, the UK’s National Cyber Security Center, a branch of the GCHQ electromagnetic intelligence agency, told UK government departments involved in national security to ditch Kaspersky products.
Mr Kaspersky has always denied any connection to the Kremlin and dismissed the allegations at the time as “conspiracy theories,” saying it was “ridiculous” to assume that just because he was raised in Soviet Russia , “My company and I must be close friends with Russian intelligence agencies.”
Mr. Kaspersky studied at a KGB training academy and then worked as a KGB military officer before founding the company in 1997.
He resisted direct questions about the ban and instead emphasized a desire for transparency, which involves moving some IT functions from Russia. in Zurich to reassure customers that sensitive information will be kept in neutral territory.
Kaspersky is also opening new “transparency centers” so that regulators, including Canada, Spain, Brazil and Malaysia, can review their software.
Under the new regime, data from European and American customers is analyzed in Zurich while data from customers from Asia, Africa and Russia continues to be processed in Moscow.
But the firewall is only expanding so far: technicians based in Russia and elsewhere in the world will still be able to access data stored in Switzerland. The company also appears to have abandoned an earlier promise that requests for access from outside Zurich would be recorded and monitored by an independent Swiss organization.
The best way to allay suspicion might be to leave Russia entirely and re-establish the business in a new jurisdiction, but Mr Kaspersky rejected the idea. “To be honest, I’m comfortable enough to stay as a Moscow company. . . because we have no influence from the Russian government, ”he said, adding that the tax rules for Russian technology companies were“ like heaven ”. Kaspersky had sales of $ 685 million in 2019, according to the company, with 400 million users worldwide.
The entrepreneur is also reluctant to discuss accusations of the Kremlin assault in cyberspace. Asked about US and UK intelligence assessments that Russian-backed hackers sought to infiltrate medical research organizations to steal data on Covid-19 vaccines, he said he did not have “hard data” to confirm the allegations, adding that “they are happening in many different countries… we also have victims of similar attacks in Russia.”
Mr Kaspersky said spy attacks – including those health organizations, which exploded during the pandemic – were a “global problem” and that it was “very difficult to attribute them” to particular actors. When discussing Huawei, he pointed out that the suspicion goes both ways – China and Russia are also skeptical of American technology.
He said Russian hackers benefited from the breakdown in Moscow-West relations, which had damaged international cooperation in the fight against cybercrime.
The pandemic, he added, only made matters worse, prompting a boom in ransomware attacks against hospitals and healthcare organizations, which he likened to “a kind of terrorism” .
Kaspersky teams now detect an average of 400,000 new malicious applications per day, an increase of a quarter since before the pandemic. “To fight this problem, we need very strong cooperation between different nations,” he said. “Unfortunately, at this time, the ties between different regions, different nations, east and west, are broken.”
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