The UK’s national centre for cybersecurity has warned against using Russian antivirus programs like Kaspersky for fears they are linked to state-sponsored spying.
Kaspersky Lab has been a trusted name in antivirus since the early 2000s.
The Moscow-based firm is still the biggest Russian software maker operating in the UK.
But despite its own protests to the contrary, it is at the centre of an espionage dispute that British intelligence is warning could put users’ personal data in jeopardy.
Russia is widely seen in intelligence circles as a serious cyberthreat to Western Europe.
The country’s leadership is under investigation by the US Senate for charges it attempted to influence the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
And Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency is widely credited as having spammed millions of Facebook and Twitter accounts with anti-Clinton, anti-Democrat advertising, as well as spoofing accounts of both rightwing and leftwing groups in an attempt at disinformation, misinformation, and stoking violence, racial fears and social tension.
The assessment by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) found that because “Russia is acting against the UK’s national interest in cyberspace”, UK users should avoid all Russian antivirus products.
NCSC Chief Executive Ciaran Martin wrote in a letter to government departments outlining his severe concerns.
“The NCSC advises that Russia is a highly capable cyber threat actor which uses cyber as a tool of statecraft. This includes espionage, disruption and influence operations. Russia has the intent to target UK central Government and the UK’s critical national infrastructure.”
A point here – Kasperky Labs deny any charge that they are working with or influenced by Russian state actors working against the UK national interest.
CEO Eugene Kasperky wrote on Twitter: “Let me stress: there is *no* ban for KL products in the UK. We are in touch with @NCSC regarding our Transparency Initiative and I am sure we will find the way to work together”.
But Ciaran Martin points out: “The job of AV [antivirus] is to detect malware in a network and get rid of it. So to do its job properly, an AV product must (a) be highly intrusive within a network so it can find malware, and (b) be able to communicate back to the vendor so it knows what it is looking for and what needs to be done to defeat the infiltration.
“It is therefore obvious why this matters in terms of national security. We need to be vigilant to the risk that an AV product under the control of a hostile actor could extract sensitive data from that network, or indeed cause damage to the network itself.
“That’s why the country of origin matters. It isn’t everything…But in the national security space there are some obvious risks around foreign ownership.
“In practical terms, this means that for systems processing information classified SECRET and above, a Russia-based provider should never be used.”
The NSCS says it is working with Kaspersky to find “verifiable measures to prevent the transfer of UK data to the Russian state”.
For the rest of us, it’s clear that choosing an antivirus program we can trust is of ultimate importance.
Make sure to read as many reviews as possible before picking the software that’s going to protect you from the many threats facing your personal data.