Senate Dem pushes for government-wide ban of Russian cyber firm

Senate Dem pushes for government-wide ban of Russian cyber firm
© Greg Nash

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress The Hill Interview: GOP chairman says ‘red flags’ surround Russian cyber firm Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ MORE (D-N.H.) is pushing for a government-wide ban of security software produced by a Russian-origin cyber firm on the grounds that the company’s “extensive ties to Russian intelligence” threaten the United States. 

Shaheen has already successfully introduced an amendment to the Senate’s version of annual defense policy legislation that would bar the Defense Department from using Kaspersky Lab software. But the Democratic senator wants the final bill to go even further, by instituting a ban on all federal agencies from using software produced by the company. 

“I am advancing bipartisan legislation to prohibit the federal government from using Kaspersky Lab software,” Shaheen wrote in an op-ed published in The New York Times. “When broad defense legislation comes before the Senate in the weeks ahead, I hope to amend it to ban Kaspersky software from all of the federal government.”

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Kaspersky’s alleged ties to Russian intelligence have made headlines in recent years. Eugene Kaspersky, the company’s founder, was educated at a computer science institute backed by the KGB, the Soviet-era spy agency. The company, however, has repeatedly rejected claims that it has ties to Russian intelligence. 

"Kaspersky Lab doesn't have inappropriate ties with any government, which is why no credible evidence has been presented publicly by anyone or any organization to back up the false allegations made against the company," the company told The Hill in a statement on Tuesday. 

"The only conclusion seems to be that Kaspersky Lab, a private company, is caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight, and it’s being treated unfairly even though the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyber espionage or offensive cyber efforts."

The U.S. government has produced no public evidence showing that the company has ties to the Russian government. But the FBI is said to be pursuing a long-running investigation into the company. FBI agents visited the homes of several employees of the company earlier this year. 

Shaheen argued on Monday that the company has deep ties to Russian intelligence. She cited May testimony from several top intelligence officials who said in response to questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee that they would not be comfortable with the company’s software on their systems. 

“I cannot disclose the classified assessments that prompted the intelligence chiefs’ response,” Shaheen wrote. “But it is unacceptable to ignore questions about Kaspersky Lab because the answers are shielded in classified materials.” 

The senator also cited recent reporting from Bloomberg and McClatchy suggesting that the company has worked with Russian intelligence. 

The company, which produces widely lauded anti-virus software, has operations across the globe, including in the United States. Kaspersky’s North American division is separate from its headquarters in Moscow. 

Kaspersky has faced increased scrutiny in the wake of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia acted to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election using cyberattacks and disinformation. 

“The Kremlin hacked our presidential election, is waging a cyberwar against our NATO allies and is probing opportunities to use similar tactics against democracies worldwide,” Shaheen wrote in the Times. “Why then are federal agencies, local and state governments and millions of Americans unwittingly inviting this threat into their cyber networks and secure spaces?” 

The Trump administration has already taken steps to restrict government agencies from procuring Kaspersky software using certain contracts. In July, the General Services Administration removed Kaspersky Lab products from a list of outside products approved for use by the government.