A Russian Cybersecurity Company's Ties to the Kremlin

For those who don't know, Kaspersky Lab is one of the world's biggest cybersecurity companies. Their products protect as many as 400 million people worldwide. The company makes what's considered one of the best antivirus engines around. And its research team is world-class, publishing industry-leading exposés of operations ranging from the National Security Agency to criminal hacker gangs.

The problem is that the company's reported links to the Kremlin are coming under greater scrutiny after last year's election meddling by Russia. We wrote about these links back in 2015, revealing, for example, that founder Eugene Kaspersky had can't-miss weekly banya (sauna) nights with Russian military and intelligence officials.

Two years later, Kaspersky is under pressure on all fronts. U.S. intelligence agencies have deemed the software a potential national security risk. Congress is debating whether to ban the technology outright for use in the U.S. military. The FBI recently visited the homes of U.S.-based Kaspersky Lab employees in connection with an ongoing counterintelligence investigation. No one's suggested that Kaspersky has engaged in inappropriate activities with Russian intelligence, but the concern is that the company's ties to people in the Russian government could lead to undue influence.

In our new story for Bloomberg Businessweek (which also makes up this week's episode of the Decrypted podcast), Michael Riley and I report on internal e-mails from Kaspersky Lab showing that the company's ties to Russian intelligence services go deeper than has previously been disclosed. According to one of the threads, in 2009, Eugene Kaspersky was overseeing the development of a secret anti-hacking software project for the FSB, which is Russia's main intelligence agency. That project became the basis of Kaspersky's anti-denial-of-service security technology that's deployed around the world to corporations (but, noticeably, is not available in the U.S. or Canada). Eugene Kaspersky has said for years, including just two months ago, that his company has no ties to any government other than paying taxes. In response to our story, Kaspersky Lab said it "does not have any unethical ties or affiliations with any government, including Russia." There's lots more in the story, including how a senior Kaspersky Lab employee would ride along with Russian detectives and help them make arrests of cyber criminals with the help of the company's data.

For the podcast, we have a special treat. In 2015, Eugene Kaspersky gave an on-the-record interview to us where we asked about his ties to the Russian government. The audio didn't seem to have a home until now, so we've unearthed some key clips so you can hear Eugene Kaspersky discuss in his own words the kinds of folks who attend the banya night. 

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