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Dem presses Homeland Security for update on Kaspersky ban

Dem presses Homeland Security for update on Kaspersky ban
© Wikimedia Commons

The top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee is pressing the Department of Homeland Security to provide an updated account of the federal agencies that have complied with the ban on Kaspersky Lab software.

In a letter sent earlier this month, Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLong-shot Espy campaign sees national boost in weeks before election House chairman asks Secret Service for briefing on COVID-19 safeguards for agents Hillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments MORE (D-Miss.) asked Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenWatchdog finds top DOJ officials were 'driving force' behind Trump's child separation policy: NYT More than million in DHS contracts awarded to firm of acting secretary's wife: report DHS IG won't investigate after watchdog said Wolf, Cuccinelli appointments violated law MORE to disclose the specific percentage of agencies that have complied with the Kaspersky directive issued by the department in September. 

Kaspersky, which is headquartered in Moscow and serves customers around the globe, has attracted significant attention in Washington as a result of allegations over ties to the Russian government. The company has long maintained that it operates independently.

On Sept. 13, Homeland Security issued a public directive ordering federal agencies to remove Kaspersky software from their systems within three months. The department cited “the risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems,” but provided no underlying evidence to support its conclusions. 

The Wall Street Journal reported subsequently that Russian hackers had used Kaspersky software in 2015 to target a National Security Agency contractor and steal classified national security secrets.

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In his letter, Thompson accused Homeland Security officials of sending “unclear messages” about the progress made on the directive and understanding the threat.

“I am hoping to clarify these recent statements to understand the schedule for removing Kaspersky products, what insight DHS has been able to gain from a closer examination of agency networks, and whether DHS has a plan to resolve security threats that remain,” Thompson wrote.

He cited questions for Homeland Security raised by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in connection with its oversight investigation of Kaspersky. That committee sent a list of questions to Homeland Security last month, including asking for an accounting of the agencies that had identified Kaspersky software on their systems.

Christopher Krebs, the acting undersecretary for the department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, reported in mid-December that agencies were ahead of schedule in implementing the ban.

Democrats and Republicans have voiced support for the ban, which came amid intense scrutiny surrounding Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Meanwhile, Kaspersky has vowed to challenge the ban, filing an injunction last week accusing Homeland Security of not providing advanced notice or offering the company the opportunity to contest the purported evidence supporting the directive. 

At the time of the directive, Elaine DukeElaine Costanzo DukeAppeals court sides with Trump over drawdown of immigrant protections Trump mulled selling Puerto Rico, former aide says Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary MORE was helming the department in an acting capacity. President TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE has since selected Nielsen to permanently succeed John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, who is now his chief of staff, as Homeland Security secretary. 

Nielsen is widely cheered as a cyber expert and is expected to make cybersecurity a high priority in her leadership role.

In his letter, Thompson relayed a number of questions on Kaspersky to the new secretary, including whether the ban will also extend to government contractors. He also asked the department whether it has turned up evidence of Kaspersky-related breaches at federal agencies.