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What the Kaspersky antivirus hack really means

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Kaspersky Lab’s 400 million users worldwide can’t be happy about recent news linking the company’s antivirus products to spying. The Russian government reportedly used the Moscow-based company’s software to steal sensitive information from American intelligence agents.

The incidents remind us that the security products we trust to protect our PCs have more or less full access. “Every cloud-based anti-virus has the potential and the ability to delete files, to modify files,” said Jake Williams, Founder and President of Rendition Infosec. “They have the ability to launch new processes as well as terminate existing processes.”

It’s bad if someone hacks your computer. If someone hacks your computer and uses your own antivirus software to take over, that’s a disaster. “Looking at all of this together,” Williams concluded, “It becomes clear that if whoever’s running your anti-virus doesn’t have your best interests at heart they can definitely do some damage.”

Now that we know Kaspersky antivirus software can turn against you, the next question is whether we can do anything about it. We talked to security experts to find out more.

Kaspersky’s purported data exfiltration: A timeline

The Kaspersky story heated up earlier this fall. On October 5, The Wall Street Journal reported that hackers working for the Russian government in 2015 stole documents detailing how the U.S. attacks foreign computer networks and defends domestic ones. The Russian hackers used Kaspersky Anti-Virus to identify the data and target it on the home computer of a National Security Agency contractor, the Journal said.

A few days later The New York Times reported that the Americans only found out about the purported Kaspersky data leak from Israeli spies. The Israelis, the Times said, hacked into Kaspersky themselves, where they watched Russian hackers use Kaspersky software in real time as a “sort of Google search for sensitive information.”

The Journal followed up a day later with another report. This one said Russian agents used Kaspersky to search for terms like “top secret” across computers where Kaspersky software was installed. 

Kaspersky Lab has denied allegations that it’s in cahoots with Russian intelligence. Nevertheless, retailers including Best Buy, Office Depot, and Staples have pulled Kaspersky software from store shelves during, and leading up to, the controversy.

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