On September 18, the US Senate voted to ban the use of products from the Moscow-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab by the federal government, citing national security risk. The vote was included as an amendment to an annual defense policy spending bill approved by the Senate on the same day. The measure pushed forward by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen has strong support in the House of Representatives, which also must vote on a defense spending bill. The legislation bars the use of Kaspersky Lab software in government civilian and military agencies.
On September 13, a binding directive issued by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, ordered federal agencies to remove Kaspersky Lab products from government computers over concerns the Russia-based cybersecurity software company might be vulnerable to Russian government influence. All federal departments and agencies were given 30 days to identify any Kaspersky products in use on their networks. The departments have another 60 days to begin removal of the software. The statement says, «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 Russian law does not mention American networks, nevertheless it is used as a pretext to explain the concern.
According to US News, scrutiny of the company mounted in 2017, fueled by U.S. intelligence assessments and high-profile federal investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. This summer, the General Service Administration, which oversees purchasing by the federal government, removed Kaspersky from its list of approved vendors. In June, a proposal prohibiting the US military from using the company’s products was reportedly included in the Senate’s draft of the Department of Defense’s budget rules. US intelligence leaders said earlier this year that Kaspersky Lab was already generally not allowed on military networks.
Kaspersky Lab has been producing widely lauded anti-virus software for 20 years. Today, it boasts 400 million customers around the world. Suspected of being involved in cyber espionage, the leading antivirus programs producer concluded that it was «caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight» and is being «treated unfairly even though the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage or offensive cyber efforts». Eugene Kaspersky, co-founder and CEO of Kaspersky Lab, has repeatedly denounced the allegations against his company as false and lacking credible or public evidence. He accepted the invitation to testify before the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The testimony is scheduled on Sept. 27. Too late! Even if he proves that his company is innocent, the ban will be in force. It has been introduced without giving him a chance to speak on the issue and dissipate the fears.
Kaspersky highlighted that more than 85% of its revenue comes from outside Russia. The US measure will inevitably damage the company’s image and undermine the competitive position of the Russian company internationally. Best Buy has already said it will no longer sell software made by the Russian company.
All the decisions have been taken without giving the company a chance to openly address or mitigate the concerns. There has been no thorough investigation of its activities on US soil. No credible evidence has been presented to support the accusations. It all smacks of unfair competition. The Kaspersky Lab software is quite popular in the United States, and the company’s competitors will no doubt look to capitalize on this opportunity.
The move is part of anti-Russian hysteria that hit the United States. Kaspersky Lab has come under a politically-charged attack simply because it is Russian. Can anybody imagine Russia’s authorities saying that Apple and Microsoft were working hand in glove with the CIA and, therefore, their products were considered a security threat and should be banned?
A few months ago the authorities of New Hampshire, the state Jeanne Shaheen is from, were seriously considering a ban on Russian vodka imports and sales! Meanwhile, the US energy exporters use the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act to vie for the European energy market.
On August 14, President Trump signed a memorandum that directs US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether an investigation is needed into alleged unfair Chinese trade practices. The move represents the first step in a process that could allow the president to impose tariffs on Chinese imports or other punishing trade actions. The struggle for «fair trade practices» takes place against flagrant violations of international competition rules by the United States as illustrated by the unfair treatment of Kaspersky Lab.
At the same time, the US takes no measures against Microsoft, which is abusing its dominance in the PC operating system market, creating obstacles for independent software security vendors by distributing its own Defender anti-virus software with the ubiquitous Windows operating system.
The message has been sent. Hypocrisy at the core of US internet agenda is becoming untenable. It cannot continue to advocate for an open web, while at the same time using the tactics of unfair competition. The narrative that United States is the defender of free Internet appears to be dead.