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Russian Cyber Firm Kaspersky Aches Amid Strained U.S. Relations

Jul 16, 2017

When it comes to the business of security, provenance matters.

For years, the United States has effectively banned the Chinese tech giant Huawei from entering its network equipment market for fear of possible government-mandated backdoors. Former President Barack Obama last year blocked a Chinese investment fund from acquiring Aixtron, a German chip equipment maker with a presence in the U.S., citing security concerns. China, meanwhile, has long barred western social media companies, like Facebook, from making inroads within the Middle Kingdom, where the Communist Party regards free speech as a threat.

Kaspersky Lab is the latest company to receive the brunt of a nation’s suspicions. The Russian cybersecurity firm has been taking heat in Washington, D.C., where U.S. officials have mulled restrictions on Kaspersky sales and where national security hawks have warned that the company’s proximity to Moscow threatens U.S. interests. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and founder of his namesake firm, has been doing his damnedest to fend off accusations of alleged impropriety, even as news organizations attempt to dredge up anything that might be construed as an unseemly tie to the Kremlin. (To wit: this Bloomberg story, which is barely newsworthy, despite what its headline suggests.)

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Personally, I find it hard to believe that Russia would sabotage one of its greatest software successes to meddle with American infrastructure. A move like that would immediately and irrevocably cast every business with a hint of Russian influence into disrepute. Retaliation would be swift and certain. The only circumstance under which I can imagine Russia abusing Kaspersky’s foothold on networks would be in the event that the U.S. and Russia were engaged in all out conflict. Then all bets are off.

That said, I also understand the U.S. view: wanting to prevent Russia—or a Russian business, more accurately—from having any leverage over its critical systems. The Kremlin has become far more brazen when it comes to hacking and cyber espionage in recent months. Why grant an adversary such a potentially strategic position?

Kaspersky has topnotch researchers, some of the best in the business. It's a shame that its commercial aspirations, which have the potential to build common economic and diplomatic ground, must suffer amid this cloud of fomenting distrust. It’s like two sets of parents forbidding their children from playing together because the folks don’t get along. Like I said, a shame.

This week Fortune's team is headed to Aspen, Colorado, for our Brainstorm Tech conference. There we'll have a number of experts from the national security world taking the stage, including Stanley McChrystal, a former top military commander, Keith Alexander, ex-head of the NSA, and John Brennan, onetime CIA boss. We'll be sure to share what we learn about private industry and public sector relations in an upcoming edition of Cyber Saturday. Stay tuned.

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