Kaspersky Lab founder won't move firm out of Russia

Kaspersky Lab founder won't move firm out of Russia
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Eugene Kaspersky, the founder of Kaspersky Lab, said he would not consider moving the Moscow-based firm out of Russia to alleviate U.S. concerns about espionage, in an email interview with The Hill on Monday.

"I get it — it’s not popular to be Russian right now in some countries," Kaspersky said.

"I cannot change my origin or my company’s foundation. If we moved we would probably still be referred to as 'the Russian cybersecurity company,' even though more than 85 percent of our sales and operations are outside of Russia," he added. 

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"In addition, skilled computer engineers are challenging to find and Russia has very experienced computer engineers — this is our natural competitive advantage over other cybersecurity vendors." 

The Trump administration has banned federal agencies from using Kaspersky software, citing security concerns but revealing few details other than pointing to the company's location in Russia.

Administration officials referred to the inner workings of anti-virus software. Scanning files involves looking at potentially sensitive files and uploading files to security company servers. With servers in Russia, officials said, Kaspersky Lab would be required by Russian law to share that data with the government. 

But while the White House has been quiet about any actual spying, media reports suggest the reason for the ban was Kaspersky Lab software being involved with Russian espionage operations. Reports claimed Kremlin-affiliated hackers stole NSA hacking tools from a contractor's home computer using the file scanning meant to look for viruses to instead search for classified documents and computer code. 

Kaspersky in his email interview with The Hill noted that while the firm's operations are headquartered in Moscow, the company is incorporated in London. 

He said that one condition that could make him move out of Russia would be if he were forced to participate in offensive hacking operations. 

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Kaspersky's comments come as his company launched a new effort Monday aimed at winning back some of the trust it has lost in the U.S. after the federal ban on its products.

Those transparency efforts include third-party reviews of its code and increasing the reward for discovering and reporting security flaws in its software that the company can then patch.

There is a debate over whether the alleged Russian espionage operation using Kaspersky products would have needed the company's cooperation. 

“There is no way, based on what the software was doing, that Kaspersky couldn’t have known about this,” an anonymous official told the The Wall Street Journal.

Many industry experts are not sure, noting that at least in the publicly described version of events, it would be possible for an intelligence agency to co-opt most modern anti-virus software packages to scan for specific files without a company's knowledge. 

Kaspersky slammed the case against his products as built off anonymous sources and innuendo. 

"It’s clear the steady stream of leaks to media was intentionally designed to damage our reputation without providing us with any real opportunity to address any concerns," he said.

"We want to make sure that our customers have the best cybersecurity protection available, so we ask — if anyone has any real proof or information that my company’s systems may have been exploited, please provide us with this information."

Kaspersky told The Hill that a decision to tighten borders against a security product without public evidence would "limit competition, slow down innovation and ruin the cooperation between industry and law enforcement agencies."
He described it as the "balkanization" of internet security.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will host hearings on Kaspersky Lab products and espionage on Wednesday. The hearing had been rescheduled from an original September date when Kaspersky was slated to testify. He said he was ultimately not invited to the rescheduled hearing.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the committee," he said.

The committee has suggested there will be further hearings on the topic. 

The Russian government has threatened to bar its contractors from using U.S. security products to retaliate for the treatment of Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky would not comment on whether he'd support that policy.

"I am not the one to ask about governments retaliating against the U.S.," he said.

"I am an engineer trying to save the world from cyber threats. That is my only concern and priority.”   

This story was updated at 6:58 p.m.