US senators seek to bar Pentagon from using Kaspersky software, as FBI questions employees

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    US senators are seeking to bar the Pentagon from using Kaspersky Lab software, according to a draft defense policy bill. Earlier, several US-based Kaspersky employees were interviewed by the FBI, the software firm says.

    The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday. The bill suggests prohibiting the department of defense “from using software platforms developed by Kaspersky Lab due to reports that the Moscow-based company might be vulnerable to Russian government.” To become law, the bill still needs to be approved by the whole Senate and the House of Representatives and be signed by the president.

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    The clause, which would prevent the Russian firm’s software from being installed on defense ministry computers, was introduced by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. She argued in a statement that the firm “cannot be trusted to protect critical infrastructure, particularly computer systems” as “ties between Kaspersky Lab and the Kremlin are very alarming.”

    The NDAA release comes on the heels of Tuesday reports on visits by FBI agents to US-based employees of Kaspersky Lab, “at least a dozen” of them, according to NBC News, citing sources. The news outlet said the agents asked the employees about “what extent the US operations ultimately report to Moscow.”

    Kaspersky Lab subsequently acknowledged its employees were subjected to such visits. The employees had “due diligence” chats with FBI agents, the company said, according to Reuters, citing a Kaspersky statement.

    Kaspersky Lab has slammed allegations of its ties with the Russian government, saying that it is unacceptable “when false and unfounded accusations, which are not supported by any facts, are laid against the company,” Interfax reports, citing the company. It also stated that it is ready to disclose its activities to any government agencies, as its will only prove that it is unbiased.

    The cybersecurity firm has already insisted on having “no ties to any government,” according to a statement issued in May. 

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    “For 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organizations from cyber threats, and its headquarters’ location doesn’t change that mission – just as a US-based cybersecurity company doesn’t allow access or send any sensitive data from its products to the U.S. government,” the statement reads.

    It went on to reject claims that it is biased in favor of Russia, noting that Kaspersky Lab “reported on multiple Russian-speaking cyber espionage campaigns, which is more than any other US-based company” in the past decade.

    It is not the first time Kaspersky Lab has been forced to deny allegations that it has links to Russia’s intelligence services, amid an ever-widening probe into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US election.

    In March, the company came under fire for paying former national security adviser of Donald Trump, Gen. Michael Flynn, for a speech at a cybersecurity conference in 2015. Commenting on the issue, Kaspersky Lab denied any ties to any government, but said that it is “proud to collaborate with the authorities of many countries, as well as international law enforcement agencies in the fight against cybercrime.”

    Moscow could impose retaliatory measures in case of a Kaspersky software ban in the US, according to Russian Communications Minister Nikolay Nikiforov. The minister said he hopes that it will not come to that.

    “I hope that such decisions will not be made. If they are made, then Russia, of course, always reserves the right to impose any retaliatory measures, as we see in the case of agricultural sector,” the minister said.

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