Op-Ed: Suddenly, Kaspersky is banned? Global game changer in play

Posted Sep 14, 2017 by Paul Wallis
The banning of the very popular Kaspersky Internet security software from U.S. government agencies is odder than it looks. The reason for the ban is links to the Kremlin and Russian spy agencies, but think about that for a minute.
A picture taken on October 17  2016 shows employees working at the headquarters of Internet security...
A picture taken on October 17, 2016 shows employees working at the headquarters of Internet security giant Kaspersky in Moscow
Kirill Kudrayavtsev, AFP/File
The ban by the DHS is unequivocal in scope. It included an order to comply within 90 days. The theory of the ban is that under Russian law, Kaspersky could be compelled to provide confidential information to the Russian intelligence services.
So far so good. There’s something slightly bemusing, though, in a company which would be such an obvious mark. There are literally thousands of ways to get information without so much rigmarole. Security laws, these days, are far less ceremonial than legal processes.
There’s no doubt whatsoever that the theory can at least be shown to be a real possibility. That said, whatever happened to double guessing a possible source of leaks, and simply sourcing elsewhere?
Also, given the fact that the Kaspersky brand has been going for many years, what about the past? It wasn’t a threat then, but it is now? Any security issues in the past, presumably, didn’t warrant this level of attention.
Have the Russians been providing most of the planet with access to software which is accessible to their security agencies?
Who else might do something like that? Just about everybody. In fact, everyone does. Cyber security is the new frontier of electronic warfare. There are no rules and no limits.
The theory of security is a very broad brush these days. Rampaging political botnets, state-developed viruses, and a world full of smug little security “experts” who’ve never even questioned Kaspersky are some of the symptoms.
Maybe the sudden, drastic action by the DHS has a lot more to it? You don’t even need a conspiracy theory to consider that the DHS wouldn’t take such very conspicuous action without some active operational basis.
Meaning - What, exactly, triggered all this sudden official zeal for agency security? Agency security in recent years included the Wikileaks, Snowden, and Manning cases. These three cases were not quite the epitome of ferociously enforced onsite security, let alone online security. The average US grocery till has better security than the US Army and State Department, apparently.
…And now, suddenly, there’s this urgent interest in a much higher tier of security? Curiouser and curiouser. No doubt the DHS isn’t doing all this purely for the entertainment value, but why now? Particularly in the midst of the Trump/Russia enquiry.
Not wishing to perform a Disney rodent-ectomy on people who are trying to do their jobs, (who some would call a persecuted minority in most governments), but - Does this mean that somebody’s finally getting serious about security? Never mind the politics, this is a lot bigger even in principle. It directly affects all online security providers, and their customers.
If you isolate or exclude a potential source of information on the basis of being a security risk, where does that go? How do you define a possible source of security information? Do you manage it physically, like this, or do you up the ante and manage it legally, too, by selective exclusion of providers, backed up by laws?
See where this could go. See also that the natural counter to this move is to deliver another, arm’s length type of AV software, not directly traceable to a foreign source or foreign intervention. You could simply corrupt legitimate software, and this type of scrutiny, based on visible associations with foreign governments, agencies, etc.. would find nothing.
Meanwhile - Does this mean AV providers will have to get security clearance? It probably does. It’s a logical step, both in practical terms and because the bar has just been raised for AV providers.
The AV providers are natural targets in the online wars. Their software, in fact, is as much under attack as anything else. Being seen as potential risks, however, really does change the game completely.
Expect the obvious gaps in this situation to get filled, fast, with anything and everything. The stampede will deliver something, but it’s hard to believe the incoming software will be pure as the driven snow for long, either.