Kaspersky Lab CEO says company may be hacking victim

CEO Eugene Kaspersky likened a Wall Street Journal report on his company’s software being used to hack an NSA contractor to “the script of a C movie” and said his company was in the middle of a geopolitical dispute. 

The CEO of Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab* hit back at a report in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday alleging that software from the Moscow-based company tipped off Russian hackers to the presence of classified hacking tools from the National Security Agency that were stored on a contractor’s computer.

In a blog post late Thursday, Eugene Kaspersky called the Wall Street Journal report “sensationalist” and described as being “like the script of a C movie.”

In a statement released on Thursday from the company’s North American headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts, Kaspersky said that it has not been provided “any evidence substantiating the company’s involvement in the alleged incident.” Kaspersky said it is a private firm without “inappropriate” ties to any government. “It is unfortunate that news coverage of unproven claims continue to perpetuate accusations about the company.”

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday published a report alleging the company’s software was used by Russian agents to identify classified hacking tools stored on the computer of a National Security Agency contractor.

“As a private company, Kaspersky Lab does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia, and the only conclusion seems to be that Kaspersky Lab is caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight,” the company said in its statement.

The Wall Street Journal did not name any sources for the information but claimed its information came from “multiple people” with knowledge of the hack.

The report claimed that the incident occurred in 2015 but had not been previously disclosed but is considered “one of the most significant security breaches in recent years.” The hack “offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S.,” the Journal said.

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., the Journal reported, citing confidential sources.

Kaspersky Lab
Kaspersky Lab disputed a report in the Wall Street Journal that its software played a role in the theft of NSA hacking tools from a government contractor.

Kaspersky Lab and its charismatic CEO have been objects of fascination and rumors about connections to Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB,  for years. However, the company has faced increasing scrutiny from the U.S. government and military. In September, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance instructing federal agencies to discontinue use of the software over concerns of the company’s links to Russian intelligence services.

Security experts have raised questions about the Wall Street Journal report, especially given the absence of technical details about how the Kaspersky Lab antivirus software played a part in the theft of the NSA tools. If the files  were really cyber offensive tools, it is possible that Kaspersky’s software might have identified them as malicious, tipping off hackers who already had access to the contractor’s computer of the presence of the files.

Another possibility: Kaspersky itself was hacked.

While denying that his company cooperates with Russian intelligence  CEO Kaspersky said in his blog post that it was possible that his company’s product had been hacked with “Russian hackers exploit(ing) a weakness in our products installed on the PC of one of our users.”

Editor’s note: from 2010 to 2012 this reporter was an employee of Kaspersky Lab as a Senior Editor for the company’s Threatpost cybersecurity news blog. 

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