Is this the end of the line for Kaspersky?

As the UK government is warned off from using Kaspersky products, Rob Horgan examines what impact that decision will have on the Russian firm, its partners and the Channel as a whole

Kaspersky’s days in the West could soon be numbered – in fact, they probably already are. Public confidence in the Russian cybersecurity firm is shaky to say the very least, as the Sword of the Damocles inches closer to the under-fire firm. Now that may sound like a big jump or a tremendous assumption to make, considering the current climate, but the reality is that Kaspersky is in real danger of having the door abruptly slammed in its face. If things continue in the vein that they are currently going, Kaspersky could soon be banished from Europe and the US altogether.

The first major UK firm to succumb to the concerns circulating around Kaspersky is Barclays. Quick on the heels of the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) decision to advise the UK Government against using Kaspersky products, Barclays pulled the plug on dealings with the Russian software firm. Removing Kaspersky’s security software from its list of customer offerings, Barclays snap reaction lays weight to the argument that commercial firms can be – and evidently are – easily swayed by government stances. That would seem especially true when it comes to matters of internet security. In this day and age, when cybersecurity is playing havoc at the forefront of everyone’s paranoia – yet low down on most people’s understanding (including government officials) – Kaspersky appears to be being prepped to take a bullet.

Barclays official stance was that while it was removing the product it was not encouraging users to strip Kaskpersky software from their PCs (perfectly contradictory). “Following the information that’s been shared in the news we will no longer be offering Kasperky’s free service,” a Barclay’s spokesperson said. “We’ve made the precautionary decision to no longer offer Kaspersky software to new users. However, there’s nothing to suggest that customers need to stop using Kaspersky. At this stage there is no action for you to take. It’s important that you continue to protect yourself with anti-virus software.”

At this point it is integral to point out that Kaspersky has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing. Its only proven ‘crime’ – if it can even be called that – is the fact that it is a Russian company, with a Russian founder, that pays its taxes to the Russian government. In fact, like Barclays the NCSC urged people not to drop Kaspersky on the back of its own warning. “We see no compelling case at present to extend that advice to the wider public sector, more general enterprises, or individuals,” a NCSC spokesperson said. “We really don’t want people doing things like ripping out Kaspersky software at large, as it makes little sense.”

And yet, Barclays isn’t the first major company to react to the mounting speculation surrounding Kaspersky’s true intentions and most probably won’t be the last. Earlier in the year, after the US Department of Homeland Security announced that it was ‘concerned about ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence’, retailers began banishing Kaspersky products from their shelves across the US and UK. While Amazon still offers Kaspersky products (a big confidence boost for the security firm) Best Buy, Office Depot, Office Max, Staples and Target have either stopped selling or are phasing out Kaspersky products.

Each time Kaspersky is accused of spying, its charismatic founder Eugene Kaspersky jumps to his companies defence. Time after time we have heard him pleading his companies good intentions, and promising to be completely transparent. For now the UK distributors and retailers who deal with Kaspersky are – on the whole – sticking with the Russian firm, however the mounting pressure may take that choice out of their hands. (The fact that Kaspersky’s Channel partners have kept tight-lipped on the subject so far tells its own story.)

As nations point their fingers at one another and cyber warfare becomes a reality, the distrust that is already building will eventually become too great to ignore. According to chief security officer at SecureData Charl van der Walt, it is only a matter of time before Cyber Balkanisation – effectively borders on the internet – comes into force.

“In a reality where nations are in conflict… it would be grossly irresponsible of any nation who sees Russia as a threat to allow any government department or significant business entity to be using any Russian technology, let alone something so deeply embedded as an antivirus engine,” he said. “It won’t stop with Russia either. China is already in the firing line and governments will increasingly see their technologies and systems being shunned. This is why Cyber Balkanisation seems like such an inevitable tragedy: if the West starts rejecting Russian and Chinese technologies, why wouldn’t those two countries do the same? Inevitably pro-western allies like Israel and Western Europe will be painted with the same brush. All the way up and down the computing stack, governments and companies will be forced to choose vendors with which they feel a political alliance.”

If van der Walt is correct, Kaspersky may just be the tip of the iceberg as virtual borders are drawn in cyber space. The Channel will have a large say in the matter as individual partners must decide whether to follow in their government’s footsteps or to commit to their existing business partnerships.  

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