The headquarters of the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab.
Sergei Savostyanov—TASS
By Robert Hackett
October 7, 2017

For months government officials have waged a campaign against Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based maker of popular antivirus software. Their distrust culminated last month in a Department of Homeland Security ban on federal networks using the company’s products.

Now we finally have some insight into why the U.S. has been giving one of Russia’s greatest business successes—a protector of more than 400 million people’s computers—the snub. According to a much-pored over report by the Wall Street Journal, an NSA hacker flouted protocol (and all common sense) two years ago by taking work home to a personal computer that ran Kaspersky software. The mistake would prove catastrophic.

Kaspersky’s cloud-based malware detection engine is said to have discovered and catalogued the digital contents of the rogue employee’s machine, including its top secret hacking code. This trove then wound up in the hands of Moscow’s spies.

The unanswered question is how. Did Kaspersky tip off Moscow’s spooks? Does the Kremlin have a man on the inside? Have Russian agents so thoroughly compromised the company’s software and systems that they are unrestrictedly monitoring its activities? We don’t know.

National security hawks have long alleged that Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of his namesake firm, has uncomfortably close ties to the Kremlin, despite his insistence otherwise. In light of the latest revelation, the billionaire maintained his innocence. “Kaspersky Lab does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia, and the only conclusion seems to be that Kaspersky Lab is caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight,” he told the Journal.

There’s no doubt that Kaspersky—and his company—are caught in the crossfire of two increasingly discontented world powers. Even if the businessman testifies at a House committee hearing later this month, as he intends (assuming he gets an expedited visa), it’s hard to see how he’ll ever win back his former federal customers.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach me via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


You May Like