Critics of Russian Kaspersky Lab Targeted In Elaborate Spy Operation

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Connections and rabbit holes: Following the stories.

For related background, in case you missed it, the Canary has been following stories about spyware makers who make it possible to hack and spy on people, especially journalists, activists, and government dissidents, read:

Operatives Targeted Multiple People in Connection to Spyware Makers ‘NSO Group’ (TNB)

International Operatives Target Citizen Lab Cybersecurity Watchdog (TNB)

On April 17, Associated Press reporter Raphael Satter ran an AP Exclusive: Mysterious operative haunted Kaspersky critics

Russian specialist Keir Giles works with the London’s Chatham House, a thinktank with the Royal Institute of International Affairs, has long urged using caution when dealing with Eugene Kaspersky, cofounder of Kaspersky Lab, and critic of his Kremlin connections.

“Keir Giles’ first thought was that the man’s cheap-looking suit didn’t seem right for a private equity executive. The man who called himself Lucas Lambert told Giles his firm, NPH Investments – based in both Tokyo and Hong Kong, was interested in having Giles speak at an upcoming cybersecurity conference.

“The man seated in front of him at the London hotel claimed to live in Hong Kong, but didn’t seem overly familiar with the city. Then there was the awkward conversation, which kept returning to one topic in particular: the Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab.”

Giles told the AP Lambert continued to press him to repeat himself and to speak louder so often Giles “began wondering ‘whether I should be speaking into his tie or his briefcase or wherever the microphone was.”

“He was drilling down hard on whether there had been any ulterior motives behind negative media commentary on Kaspersky,” Giles said, adding, “The angle he wanted to push was that individuals — like me — who had been quoted in the media had been induced by or motivated to do so by Kaspersky’s competitors.”

The Associated Press has learned that the mysterious man, who said his name was Lucas Lambert, spent several months last year investigating critics of Kaspersky Lab, organizing at least four meetings with cybersecurity experts in London and New York.

Giles said he met with Lambert twice last year, ostensibly to discuss Giles speaking at a cybersecurity conference that Lambert’s company was organizing. But Lambert seemed far more interested in finding out whether anyone had been paid to publicly undermine Kaspersky.

Kaspersky Lab declined to answer questions from the AP about whether it had any involvement with the meetings.

The operation targeting Giles and others came at a sensitive time for the Moscow-based company, which boasts one of the world’s most popular consumer antivirus products and a research unit widely respected for routinely exposing elite hacking groups.

Kaspersky Lab is an antivirus firm cofounded by Yevgeny Valentinovich Kaspersky (Eugene Kaspersky) in 1997. He became CEO of his firm in 2007 and remains so still today. Considering Kaspersky’s long and deep ties being raised within then USSR Kremlin KGB apparatus makes suspicions easy to understand. Or it should have been.

Allegations have surrounded Kaspersky since acquiring his first American clients because of his continued deep ties and associations with KGB successors. Not even a recent move, “aka “Please stop being horrid about our Russian connections,”” of some of its key processes out of Russia to Switzerland has managed to save it from continued allegations.

Most of his time is spent courting governments and corporations. You cannot be one of the richest men in Russia and not have ties to the Russian government. Russian federal laws dictate you will cooperate when told to do so. Kaspersky, the ex-Intelligence Officer in the Soviet Army, calls all the accusations “cold war paranoia.”

Meanwhile, over the years, Kaspersky brags of his meetings with heads of states. In one Cancun 2012 conference he tells his audience he was sorry he missed the festivities the previous evening; he’d just returned from a quick 72-hour round trip to Germany and back.

“Kissinger, McCain, presidents, government ministers” were all there, he says. “I have panel. Left of me, minister of defense of Italy. Right of me, former head of CIA. I’m like, ‘Whoa, colleagues.’”

As of 2012, the firm had a reach of 300 million users of its products. Kaspersky’s code has been embedded into Microsoft, Cisco, and Juniper Networks products for years so that every time one downloads one of their applications, they are also sending their data directly to the company’s headquarters in Russia.

Today the number of users, both witting and unwittingly, reaches an estimated 400 million.

By 2015, the U.S. government began to finally acknowledge concerns over Kaspersky’s close ties to the Kremlin after western media outlet reports.

On September 13, 2017, after alleging “that Kaspersky Lab had worked on secret projects with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB),” the Department of Homeland Security banned Kaspersky products from all government products. Trump signed legislation saying “US government institutions were prohibited from buying and installing Kaspersky software on their computers and other devices.”

According to the above AP report, Kaspersky sued the US government over its decision to ban its products, “arguing that it never helped hackers and was being “considered guilty until proven innocent.” U.S. judges have since dismissed the lawsuit.”

For full content and context: AP Exclusive: Mysterious operative haunted Kaspersky critics.

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