Kaspersky speaks on US government ban and a closed Russian internet

As Eugene Kaspersky saw his chance to celebrate a decade of sponsoring the Ferrari Scuderia F1 team evaporate when the Melbourne Grand Prix was cancelled, ZDNet asked about why he was singled out by the US government, parallels with the Huawei ban, and a Russian internet.
Written by Anthony Caruana, Contributor
Image: Max Avdeev

In 2016, Kasperky's annual revenue was over $640 million. But that was all put at risk when the US government banned the use of the company's security software. According to Eugene Kaspersky, the reality was that the US government's business was insignificant and there was no foundation for the accusations made against the company.

Kaspersky describing the time as a "shitstorm".

"So it's made of the fake data. So it's not truth after two years. After two years, no proofs, no data at all," the eponymous CEO said.

At the time of the ban, his company transacted just $50,000 with the US government -- a figure he called "nothing", noting that the congressional hearings into the ban had cost the US government far more than the revenue he lost -- at least initially.

Banned in the USA

So, why was he singled out?

"I think that it's better to ask this question on the other side of the Pacific Ocean," he said.

Kaspersky told ZDNet that his software doesn't focus on attribution but could detect state-sponsored threats. He suggested that threats fell into two broad categories: Those that stole data and were focused on espionage; and those that stole money and we're most likely criminal. And he believes that the software's ability to detect those kinds of threats and suggest connections between the source code of malware it detected and malware from other sources, among other factors, suggested that perhaps the software detected something the US government didn't want revealed -- a view supported by Kaspersky APAC boss Stephan Neumeier.

Since the ban on the company, Kaspersky noted that revenue in other parts of the world has increased such that the losses suffered in the US following the government ban were covered by business growth in other regions. And partners that left Kaspersky in 2016 are now returning, suggesting that Kasperky's business is starting to recover there.

But, despite the cost of the ban, Kaspersky says he would not do anything differently.

The company opened Transparency Centers in Zurich and Madrid. In early 2020, new Transparency Centers will be opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in São Paulo, Brazil. He noted that the opening of the San Paolo centre has been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Isn't this like Huawei?

With Huawei facing similar bans, Kaspersky said that it was something of a furphy to suggest Huawei was installing telecommunications equipment as a way of giving the Chinese government a way of spying.

"I'm afraid it's both as a geopolitical and political motivation", he said.

Kaspersky suggested that if the Chinese government wanted to spy and steal data that there were easier and cheaper ways to do so.

"There's cheaper ways to do it. To me, it doesn't look logical".

The Russian Internet

The geopolitical climate that resulted in the ban has changed over recent times. One of the emerging trends is that many countries, including Russia, are looking to protect their sovereign interests online. The so-called "Russian internet" is one such initiative. But Kaspersky says he doesn't see this as an isolationist policy.

The ability for Russia to actually disconnect from the internet and establish its own national network is probably not possible, he said. There are too many international connections and cutting them would have far too great a cost.

"Russia, as I see, they want to have the data in house, they want not to be dependent on the rest of the world. So what they do in Russia is to test their system, if it works alone, isolated, to be sure that if something happens the system must work itself".

With increasing nationalism feeding suspicion in many Western countries, including Australia, Kaspersky has some interesting views on what it means to be in business in such a challenging global climate.

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