Israeli intelligence officials alerted US government of Russian hackers using Kaspersky Lab antivirus software to steal classified information. Kaspersky antivirus is also used by 400 million people worldwide, including US government agencies, according to US media reports on Wednesday.
The Israeli intelligence agencies who had hacked into Kaspersky’s network discovered that the software had been breached by Russian hackers who were using the program to find code names of US intelligence programs, passwords, screenshots, emails and documents.
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According to The New York Times, which first reported the story, the Israelis provided the US National Security Agency with “solid evidence” of the Kremlin’s work based on a two-year hacking operation begun in 2014.
The New York Times said the Russian is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, which had Kaspersky antivirus software installed on it.
After receiving the Israeli report, the information led to a decision in Washington only last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers within 90 days.
The Washington Post also reported on Tuesday that the hacking tools were in possession of the Russian government, the NSA found. That access, could help cyber attacks also against commercial and industrial control networks, the Post reported.
The US National Intelligence Council completed a classified report concluding that Russia’s FSB intelligence service had “probable access” to Kaspersky customer databases and source code, the Post reported.
It is not yet publicly known what other US secrets the Russian hackers may have discovered by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, the Times said.
Kaspersky, which opened in June a R&D center in Jerusalem, has denied any knowledge of Russian hacking. “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.
The National Security Agency and the White House declined to comment to the Times, as did the Israeli Embassy. The Russian Embassy did not respond to the Times requests for comment.
The Russian embassy in Washington last month called the ban on Kaspersky Lab software “regrettable” and said it delayed the prospects of restoring bilateral ties.
Spokeswoman Sarah Kitsos told the Washington Post that the company “does not possess any knowledge” of Israel’s hack: “as a private company, Kaspersky Lab does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia, and the only conclusion seems to be that Kaspersky Lab is caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight,” she said.
Reuters reports that US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a multipronged digital influence operation last year in an attempt to help Donald Trump win the White House, a charge Moscow denies.
Eugene Kaspersky, the founder and CEO of the company is a mathematical engineer who graduated from The Technical Faculty of the KGB Higher School and once worked for Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
Times of Israel added that Kaspersky’s critics say “it’s unlikely that his company could operate independently in Russia, where the economy is dominated by state-owned companies and the power of spy agencies has expanded dramatically under President Vladimir Putin.”