Utility Provider Pulls Plug on Kaspersky Software

Tennessee’s EPB is shifting away from the Russian-made software amid concerns about links to state-sponsored cyberespionage.

by Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times/Free Press / November 6, 2017
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(TNS) — The Tennessee-based EPB will soon replace a Russian brand of security software the municipal utility has provided to consumers for the past four years amid concerns the company has ties to state-sponsored cyberespionage activities.

The Kaspersky Lab software now provided as a security option for EPB Fiber Optic customers will be replaced in coming weeks by McAfee Software Security.

EPB's action follows a September directive to federal agencies to remove the Kaspersky software on the grounds that the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk.

Kaspersky's anti-virus software is used by more than 400 million people around the world to help protect computer users against internet viruses. But critics claim it was used by Russian hackers as a search tool to find code names of American intelligence programs running on computers around the globe.

Kaspersky has long denied any links with Russia's spy agencies. But in 2015, a National Security Agency contractor that had classified documents on his home computer was allegedly targeted because of his use of Kaspersky Lab anti-virus software. The Russian cybersecurity company apparently used the file inventory process that Kaspersky anti-virus uses to discover sensitive files and target the contractor.

"From our perspective, we don't think there is a high degree of risk at the consumer level, and Kaspersky has been well thought of in the industry," said J. Ed. Marston, vice president of marketing and communications at EPB. "But at the same time, our customers' peace of mind is paramount so we began to work on this just as soon as we saw this as a growing concern."

Marston said EPB "is very close to having a firm agreement" with McAfee to offer as a replacement to the Kaspersky software now provided by EPB to its Internet users.

"We will be reaching out to customers who have expressed concerns to provide them with a process where they can uninstall Kasperksy and install the McAfee software," he said.

By early 2018, Marston said EPB will have a self-service web portal that he said "will be a very intuitive, easy-to-use interface that will help people uninstall the security software they have installed (from Kaspersky) and install the McAfee software."

EPB provides the anti-virus software download as a free option for its EPB Fiber Optic customers. Such software would otherwise have both an initial purchase cost and an ongoing maintenance fee, in most instances, if an individual bought such software offered by Kaspersky, McAfee and other similar anti-virus programs.

"We're able to buy this at a better cost and we see this as a value add for our customers," Marston said.

Kaspersky disputes claims that it works with the Russian government, noting that 85 percent of its revenue comes from outside of Russia and it would hurt the firm to work inappropriately with any government. A Kaspersky spokesperson said "the accusations are based on false allegations and inaccurate assumptions."

But the software from Kaspersky Lab was removed from the U.S. General Services Administration approved list in July and in September, the Department of Homeland Security ordered federal agencies to stop using any software made by Kaspersky Lab because of concerns about the company's ties to Russian intelligence.

The Department of Homeland Security said on Sept 12 it "is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks.

"The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security," DHS said in a statement ordering federal agencies to remove the Kaspersky software within 90 days.

The founder of the company, Eugene Kaspersky, served as a software engineer at a Ministry of Defense scientific institute and created an anti-virus program to protect his own computer that eventually led to Kaspersky Lab. (Contrary to misinformed sources, he never worked for the KGB.)

©2017 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.