Information operations · Information Warfare · National security · Russia

Kaspersky Too Good, Claims Russian Minister of Communications – Almost Confirming Kaspersky-FSB Cooperation

Russian Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolay Nikiforov © Yegor Aleyev/TASS

If you ever want to propose that a Russian product is superior to any Western product, I guess you might say it is “too good”.   Not better, not the best in the world, not superior, not even the #1 product in the world. “Too good”. Crude but maaaaaybe effective, meaning I do not think it works – not at all.

A TASS article says,

Nikiforov went on attempting to make a case in support of Kaspersky but failed – in a big way.

The article contains a paragraph with three *ahem* missteps.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov slammed the US authorities’ decision on Kaspersky Lab as politically motivated. The Russian authorities said the move is the manifestation of unfair competition.

First, the decision is called politically motivated by Russia, but in the US it is a matter of national security. Eugene Kaspersky went to the KGB’s Institute of Cryptography, Telecommunications, and Computer Science, later was an officer in the GRU and has an “ongoing relationship with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or [the] FSB” (Russia’s Top Cyber Sleuth Foils US Spies, Helps Kremlin Pals).

DHS does not make the claim that Kaspersky is a threat to national security lightly.  DHS Statement on the Issuance of Binding Operational Directive 17-01.

The Department is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks. The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security.

I was recently asked by a US Congressional staffer if Kaspersky cooperates with the FSB, and I answered “if he doesn’t he’s foolish, and, while I have no proof, it only makes sense.  This is Russia and only those that cooperate with the FSB are allowed to operate freely, and Kaspersky labs operate as freely as any corporation in the West. As a matter of fact, they enjoy more freedoms.”

The next point of contention I have is the statement that the move to bar Kaspersky products is “the manifestation of unfair competition”. This is almost patently ludicrous. Are we to believe that the anti-virus vendors have that much pull in Congress that they can get the US Congress to not only hold hearings about Kaspersky but to write legislation barring their products use in the US government?

Let me put it this way.  The Congressional staffer that called me on the phone wanted me to show how Kaspersky may be a part of the much bigger picture of Russian Information Warfare. One of the rules of Russian Information Warfare is when they say “prove it”, it means Russia believes they can get away with a lie. By overly stating their defense of Kaspersky, in effect they are saying “prove it”. What I write here is my experience as a retired military intelligence officer, a cyber warfare and cybersecurity expert, and a Russian Information Warfare expert. Every part of the Russian government, bar none, is actively involved in Russian information warfare. Every Russian citizen is expected to be “patriotic” and support their government’s efforts to promote Russian national interests and attack the West with every available means. Every Russian “entity”, and that includes Russian corporations such as Kaspersky, is also expected to support Russia and Russian security services such as the FSB, GRU, SVR, and anyone else working on behalf of Russia. That support might be active or inactive, overt, tacit, or covert. It might be a backdoor requested by the FSB, built into a database maintained by Kaspersky, just for “security purposes”. It might be a flow of information, for instance, personal information of Kaspersky users, copied to the FSB, required by the FSB for Kaspersky to operate within Russia – as they require for LinkedIn and any other Western corporation operating within Russia. It might be a backdoor written into a certain individual computer as part of a routine update and removed by the next update, as required by Roskomnadzor.  Kaspersky can honestly claim they do not work with the FSB directly, they are just complying with Russian law. To do that, they allow access.

Putin recently said that “patriotic hackers” may have been responsible for stealing DNC secrets, corporate secrets, and other information used by Russian trolls controlled by the FSB or released by Wikileaks. Who is to say that Kaspersky is not just being patriotic?

The last point of contention I have is that Dmitry Peskov is Russian President Putin’s personal spokesperson. Why the Russian president would have to comment on this fairly low-level commercial entity within Russia makes this issue much more than just interesting to security specialists within the cyber world, it makes it politically interesting to the intelligence community. This throws undue attention at the Kaspersky issue, which, more than likely, indicates Western accusations of Kaspersky’s cooperation with the FSB and other security services are true.

Kaspersky may be too good, as the good minister says. There is an old adage that says, “If something is too good to be true, it probably is”.


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