Kasper­sky con­fu­sion

Wor­ries rip­pled through the con­sumer mar­ket for anti-virus soft­ware af­ter the U.S. gov­ern­ment banned fed­eral agen­cies from us­ing Kasper­sky Lab soft­ware.

The Oklahoman - - BUSINESS - BY JOSEPH PISANI AND MATT O’BRIEN AP Busi­ness Writ­ers

Wor­ries rip­pled through the con­sumer mar­ket for an­tivirus soft­ware af­ter the U.S. gov­ern­ment banned fed­eral agen­cies from us­ing Kasper­sky Lab 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 Thurs­day that it will con­tinue to get its prod­uct to cus­tomers “through its web­site and other prom­i­nent re­tail­ers.” Kasper­sky soft­ware is used by con­sumers in both free and paid ver­sions, avail­able both on­line and in stores.

Unin­stall?

The U.S. gov­ern­ment ac­tion raised the ques­tion of whether those users should fol­low the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s lead. Some com­pa­nies sought to tread care­fully, ad­dress­ing ques­tions from cus­tomers who asked about it with­out alarm­ing those that didn’t.

“We’ve had few cus­tomers raise con­cerns, but for those that have, we’ve of­fered ad­vice on how to re­move Kasper­sky from their com­put­ers,” said Craig VerColen, spokesman for Bos­ton-based soft­ware provider LogMeIn, which of­fers Kasper­sky as a com­ple­men­tary perk to small busi­nesses buy­ing its prod­ucts.

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.

Min­i­miz­ing risk

Other ex­perts, how­ever, sug­gested that con­sumers should also unin­stall Kasper­sky soft­ware to avoid any po­ten­tial risks. Michael Sul­meyer, di­rec­tor of a cy­ber­se­cu­rity pro­gram at Har­vard, noted that anti-virus soft­ware has deep ac­cess to one’s com­puter and net­work.

“Vol­un­tar­ily in­tro­duc­ing this kind of Rus­sian soft­ware 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.”

The gov­ern­ment ban should alarm any com­pany that has been re­ly­ing on Kasper­sky’s soft­ware to pro­tect its busi­ness, said Nate Fick, CEO of com­puter se­cu­rity spe­cial­ist Endgame.

“I don’t think this is po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing here, but a sign that there is some real risk,” Fick said. As a re­sult, he ex­pects most com­pa­nies to find another al­ter­na­tive to Kasper­sky. “It is all about risk mit­i­ga­tion in cy­ber­se­cu­rity, and this is an easy risk mit­i­ga­tion to make,” he said.

Best Buy was the first big re­tailer this month to an­nounce it would stop sell­ing the soft­ware. Of­fice De­pot Inc. fol­lowed Thurs­day. Ama­zon, which also sells Kasper­sky soft­ware, de­clined to com­ment. Sta­ples, another seller of the soft­ware, didn’t re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

Ties to Rus­sia

Var­i­ous U.S. law en­force­ment and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and sev­eral con­gres­sional com­mit­tees are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. 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.

Rus­sia also came to its de­fense Thurs­day, with a spokesman for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin crit­i­ciz­ing the U.S. ban.

Dmitry Peskov told jour­nal­ists on Thurs­day the move “cast a shadow over the im­age of our Amer­i­can col­leagues as re­li­able part­ners” and was de­signed to crip­ple Kasper­sky’s com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage on the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

Com­pany spokesman An­ton Shin­garov said Thurs­day in Moscow that the U.S. ban was “part of a geopo­lit­i­cal game” and “there is no proof pro­vided of any im­proper ties to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.”

[AP FILE PHO­TOS]

The head­quar­ters of Kasper­sky Lab is shown in Moscow. Wor­ries rip­pled through the con­sumer mar­ket for an­tivirus soft­ware af­ter the U.S. gov­ern­ment banned fed­eral agen­cies from us­ing Kasper­sky Lab soft­ware on Wed­nes­day.

An em­ployee of Kasper­sky Lab works on com­put­ers at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters in Moscow.

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