Con­fu­sion hits mar­ket over US ban of Kaspersky

The Mercury News Weekend - - BUSINESS - By Joseph Pisani and Ryan Nakashima As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK » Wor­ries rip­pled through the con­sumer mar­ket for an­tivirus soft­ware af­ter the U.S. gov­ern­ment banned fed­eral agen­cies from us­ing Kaspersky Labs soft­ware on Wed­nes­day. Best Buy and Of­fice De­pot said they will no longer sell soft­ware made by the Rus­sian com­pany, although one se­cu­rity re­searcher said most con­sumers don’t need to be alarmed.

The U. S. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity cited con­cerns about pos­si­ble ties be­tween un­named Kaspersky of­fi­cials and the Krem­lin and Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices. The de­part­ment also noted that Rus­sian law might com­pel Kaspersky to as­sist the gov­ern­ment in es­pi­onage.

Kaspersky has de­nied any un­eth­i­cal ties with Rus­sia or any gov­ern­ment. It said Wed­nes­day that its prod­ucts have been sold at Best Buy for a decade. Kaspersky soft­ware is widely used by con­sumers in both free and paid ver­sions, rais­ing the ques­tion of whether those users should fol­low the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s lead.

Ni­cholas Weaver, a com­puter se­cu­rity re­searcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, called the U.S. gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion “pru­dent;” he had ar­gued for such a step in July . But he added by email that “for most ev­ery­body else, the soft­ware is fine.”

The big­gest risk to U.S. gov­ern­ment com­put­ers is if Moscow-based Kaspersky is sub­ject to “gov­ern­ment-man­dated ma­li­cious up­date,” Weaver wrote this sum­mer.

Kaspersky prod­ucts ac­counted for about 5.5 per­cent of anti-mal­ware soft­ware prod­ucts world­wide, ac­cord­ing to re­search firm Statista.

An­other expert, though, sug­gested that con­sumers should also unin­stall Kaspersky soft­ware to avoid any po­ten­tial risks. Michael Sul­meyer, di­rec­tor of a cy­ber­se­cu­rity pro­gram at Har­vard, noted that an­tivirus soft­ware has deep ac­cess to one’s com­puter and net­work.

“Vol­un­tar­ily in­tro­duc­ing this kind of Rus­sian soft- ware in a geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape where the U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tion­ship is not good at all, I think would be as­sum­ing too much risk,” he said. “There are plenty of al­ter­na­tives out there.”

Of­fice De­pot Inc. an­nounced Thurs­day that it will stop sell­ing the soft­ware. Amazon, which also sells Kaspersky soft­ware, de­clined to comment.

Kaspersky said it is not sub­ject to the Rus­sian laws cited in the di­rec­tive and said in­for­ma­tion re­ceived by the com­pany is pro­tected in ac­cor­dance with legal re­quire­ments and strin­gent in­dus­try stan­dards, in­clud­ing en­cryp­tion.

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