Kaspersky in focus as Us-russia cyber-tensions rise
WASHINGTON: The security software firm Kaspersky has become the focal point in an escalating conflict in cyberspace between the United States and Russia.
The Russian-based company has been accused of being a vehicle for hackers to steal security secrets from the US National Security Agency (NSA), and was banned by all American government agencies last month.
But it remains unclear if Kaspersky was part of a scheme or an unwilling accomplice in an espionage effort.
The software firm has argued it has no ties to any government and said in a recent statement it is simply “caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight”.
But the latest accusations highlight what some see as a simmering cyberwar between the two powers.
“Currently, we’re losing,” said James Lewis, a fellow with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It’s not the kind of conflict we’re used to.”
The Kaspersky allegations come in the wake of an apparent Russian-led effort to manipulate social media and influence the 2016 US presidential election.
Russia has an advantage because “they have figured out how to use our civil liberties against us and there’s not much we can do about it,” Lewis said.
“We don’t have a group that does this kind of psychological warfare and we don’t have the legal authority to defend against it.”
Peter Singer, a New America Foundation strategist and author who has written on 21st century warfare, agreed that Russia is gaining ground in this cyber conflict.
“If it’s a ‘cyberwar’, it is a akin to a Cold War-style backand-forth of everything from stealing secrets to political influence operations,” Singer said.
“Given that the Russians have so far got away with no real consequences for the biggest, most impactful operation, the hacks and influence campaign targeting the 2016 US election, I’d say they are doing pretty well.”
But Gabriel Weimann, a professor at Israel’s University of Haifa and author who has written on cybersecurity, said it may be premature to declare Russia the winner.
“We don’t really know the achievements of NSA in monitoring the web, this kind of information is secret,” Weimann said.