Anti-virus soft­ware ‘spied on US’



The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment used a pop­u­lar an­tivirus soft­ware to se­cretly scan com­put­ers around the world for clas­si­fied US gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments and top-se­cret information, mod­i­fy­ing the pro­gram to turn it into an es­pi­onage tool, ac­cord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer US of­fi­cials.

The soft­ware, made by the Moscow-based com­pany Kasper­sky Lab, rou­tinely scans files of com­put­ers on which it is in­stalled look­ing for viruses and other ma­li­cious soft­ware. But in an ad­just­ment to its nor­mal op­er­a­tions that the of­fi­cials say could have been made only with the com­pany’s knowl­edge, the pro­gram searched for terms as broad as “top se­cret”, which may be writ­ten on clas­si­fied gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments, as well as the clas­si­fied code names of US gov­ern­ment pro­grams.

The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported last week that Rus­sian hack­ers used Kasper­sky’s soft­ware in 2015 to tar­get a con­trac­tor work­ing for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, who had removed clas­si­fied ma­te­ri­als from his work­place and put them on his home com­puter, which was run­ning the pro­gram.

The hack­ers stole highly clas­si­fied information on how the NSA con­ducts es­pi­onage and pro­tects against in­cur­sions by other coun­tries, said peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. An NSA spokesman did not com­ment on the breach.

But the use of the Kasper­sky pro­gram to spy on the US is broader and more per­va­sive than the op­er­a­tion against that one in­di­vid­ual, whose name had not been re­leased, cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials said.

Kasper­sky Lab, founded by an engi­neer trained at a KGB tech­ni­cal school, has long de­nied as­sist­ing the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment with spy­ing on other coun­tries. But many US of­fi­cials now think the ev­i­dence the US has col­lected shows the com­pany is a wit­ting part­ner.

“There is no way, based on what the soft­ware was do­ing, that Kasper­sky couldn’t have known about this,” said a for­mer US of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of information gleaned in 2015 about how the soft­ware was used to search for Amer­i­can se­crets.

He said the na­ture of the soft­ware is such that it would have had to be pro­grammed to look for spe­cific key­words, and Kasper­sky’s em­ploy­ees were likely to have known that was hap­pen­ing, the for­mer of­fi­cial said.

The com­pany said in a state­ment yes­ter­day that “Kasper­sky Lab was not in­volved in and does not pos­sess any knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion in ques­tion, and the com­pany re­it­er­ates its will­ing­ness to work along­side US au­thor­i­ties to ad­dress any con­cerns they may have about its prod­ucts as well as its sys­tems”.

It re­mains un­clear ex­actly how many other gov­ern­ment com­put­ers or em­ploy­ees may have been tar­geted us­ing the Kasper­sky prod­uct or whether se­cret gov­ern­ment ma­te­rial was stolen, said the peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

After dis­cov­er­ing the 2015 breach, US of­fi­cials be­gan gath­er­ing other ev­i­dence that Kasper­sky was be­ing used to iden­tify clas­si­fied information and as­sist in its theft, said the peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

For many months, US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies stud­ied the soft­ware and even set up con­trolled ex­per­i­ments to see whether they could trig­ger Kasper­sky’s soft­ware into be­liev­ing it had found clas­si­fied ma­te­ri­als on a com­puter be­ing mon­i­tored by US spies, these peo­ple said.

Those ex­per­i­ments per­suaded of­fi­cials that Kasper­sky was be­ing used to de­tect clas­si­fied information.

The gov­ern­ment of Is­rael ini­tially alerted the US that Kasper- sky soft­ware was be­ing used to find Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence information, after Is­rael’s own com­puter spies pen­e­trated the net­works of Kasper­sky Lab from 2014, the cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials said.

Last month, the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of ban­ning all fed­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies and de­part­ments from us­ing Kasper­sky goods and ser­vices.

That ac­tion was a direct re­sult of US ef­forts to build a case against Kasper­sky, said for­mer of­fi­cials in­volved in the work.

Un­til that de­ci­sion was made, Kasper­sky soft­ware was au­tho­rised for use in 22 gov­ern­ment agen­cies, US of­fi­cials have said.

It also is sold to US con­sumers and com­pa­nies.

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