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Fri 1 Mar 2019 07:20 PM

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Eugene Kaspersky: setting the record straight

Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, responds to claims that his company develops spy tools for the Russian intelligence. He calls the allegations baseless, unwarranted and "irrelevant".

Eugene Kaspersky: setting the record straight
Kaspersky believes that everyone has the right to be free of cybersecurity fears

Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab has been the victim of vicious attacks by Western media giants over allegations that the cybersecurity firm develops spy tools for Russian intelligence.

But outspoken CEO Eugene Kaspersky is not concerned. The company has “nothing to do with politics”, he tells Arabian Business.

Untroubled by the West’s allegations, Kaspersky says they are feeble attempts at linking his company with ongoing geopolitical tension between world’s super powers. Did the attempts succeed? No, he says, because they are merely “allegations”.

Fake news

“Fake news” is another phrase he uses to describe the negative publicity surrounding Kaspersky Lab over the past few years. While the computer scientist admits the accusations came as a shock to company partners and customers, he claims they are baseless, unjustified and unwarranted.

“Only recently the situation cooled down and the truth became clear, as there was nothing wrong with our company,” he says.

“If there is anything wrong with our products, they are available for everyone to look into. Our regulations are applied across all products around the world and we do not update our programmes or products according to the region.”

The reason behind the negative campaign, Kaspersky says, is frustration.

“Some people are frustrated because our work is unique and our products are great.” They’re mixing technology with politics, he says. And Kaspersky is all about the technology.

Humble beginnings

At the company’s main headquarters in the bustling Russian capital, the CEO points to an old-fashioned computer on his desk which resembles “a similar version” of the computer that drove him to establish his company.

Reminiscing to 1989, Kaspersky says his computer had caught the viral Cascade Virus at the time, when he was a recent graduate from the Technical College of the Higher Institute of Cryptography and Computer Science in the USSR, leading him to develop a programme to abrogate the virus. In a short span of time, he succeeded and destroyed the virus. And his career in cybersecurity began.

The Russian national went on to create highly sophisticated programmes (particularly for his time) to eradicate computer viruses. In 1997, he was ready to set up Kaspersky Lab with just 15 employees.

E-crimes

Since then, the company has grown to become a globally recognised cybersecurity powerhouse. But it took “a lot of time” and effort, says Kaspersky.

“The growth of our company took a lot of time and we had to take it step by step,” he says. While the Soviet Union’s educational system excelled in “technical” studies, it lacked strong business schooling. Kaspersky did not learn how to “get into business,” he says.

We have exceeded the Western media attack against us, but it is irrelevant. We now seek to modify our brand image and put it in the correct perspective

He didn’t need a lesson in business or politics after all. Kaspersky’s focus on technology development is the biggest reason behind his company’s success. His knack for prediction future risks in cybersecurity has also worked in his favour.

“Since the mid-1990s, I have been saying that computer viruses are not a big problem and don’t pose a threat anymore. This problem has been addressed thanks to antivirus programmes. The threat today is e-crimes,” he says.

While e-crimes were initially committed by teenagers for the sole purpose of entertainment, Kaspersky says, others began to realise their power.

“The spread of cybercrime [began] especially after the introduction of internet banking.”

Cybersecurity in the Middle East

The cybersecurity giant faces relatively the same challenges in the Middle East.

“All countries use the same protection software, all of them follow the same approach and the same logic with regards to cybersecurity,” he says.

The only difference is that the region hosts a number of large-scale corporations that are new to cyberattacks, therefore struggle in preventing and destroying them.

“More importantly, countries in the Middle East need to focus on the protection of industrial systems and critical infrastructure,” he says.

Last year, Italian oil services company Saipem was a victim of a cyberattack that targeted its servers in the Middle East, according to the company’s head of digital and innovation.

The Milan-based firm said at the time that it had detected a cyberattack but had taken action to restore regular activities. It refrained from providing further details.

“As a significant international oil and gas leader, Saipem is part of Italy’s core critical infrastructures, and this positioning attracts a perfect storm of both financially motivated and state sponsored attackers,” says Stefano Zanero, professor of computer security at the Italian university Politecnico di Milano.

“Saudi Arabia – and the Middle East in general – is a very sensitive region which could point to either economic espionage, state-sponsored information gathering or even a hacktivism-inspired incident,” he added.

A total of 274 cyberattacks targeted government and private sector entities in the UAE during the first seven months of 2018, though it marked a drop of 39 percent compared to the same period in 2017. The decline in attacks was largely due to efforts by the Computer Emergency Readiness Team in charge of foiling cyberattacks, according to statistics from the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulations Authority (TRA). In July 2018, 31 attacks were recorded compared to 42 in the same period in 2017. Around 12 of the attacks were classified as having medium impact, while 12 had low impact and only seven had serious impact.

The future of cybersecurity

While Kaspersky doesn’t expect the world to experience major digital security breaches in 2019, he predicts further attacks on infrastructure.

“We will see this more and more in the coming period,” he says, warning organisation of the difficulties they will face in protecting and updating their infrastructure over the next five years. It may even take up to 10 years, he says, to achieve adequate cybersecurity.

The solution? “More cyber protection expects and engineers,” Kaspersky says.

All about the technology

It is likely that the global cybersecurity market will indeed see more engineers as it is expected to grow from $152.71 billion in 2018 to a whopping $248.26bn by 2023 at an annual compound rate (CAGR) of 10.2 percent, according to a report by analysts Markets and Markets. But key concerns remain, including the protection of critical personal and financial information, the mitigation of risks and the prevention of cyberattacks.

While chief industry players in the cybersecurity sphere – including Kaspersky – are boosting efforts to solidify their market presence in the fiercely competitive industry, the chief executive refuses to blame competitors for negative campaigns against his company.

“An attack of this scale must be supported by big powers,” he says. “Even the biggest companies are not big enough to do these things. I don’t believe that our competitors launched this campaign against our company.”

The Russian has also denied allegations that Kaspersky Lab is somehow tied to the Russian government.

“We are working with many governments around the world, including the Russian government. We are working with e-crime departments and the procedures we apply are not different from one country to another”.

Ultimately, he says, the attacks are “irrelevant”. Kaspersky Lab is still all about the technology.



Cyber attacks in 2018: Country-specific statistics

Bahrain:

+140 percent increase in phishing attacks
+7.5 percent increase in malware attacks (all malicious software families)
+55 percent increase in ransomware attacks
+131 percent increase in banking trojan attacks

Cybercriminals targeting Bahrain prefer phishing and banking trojans, threats that allow quick money for the cybercriminals, without many efforts.

Kuwait:

+200 percent increase in phishing attacks
- 1.26 percent decrease in malware attacks (all malicious software families)
+625 percent increase in ransomware attacks
+4 percent increase in banking trojan attacks

The number of ransomware attacks in Kuwait increased seven times in a year, and the emirate is a big target of such a threat.

Morocco:

+137 percent increase in phishing attacks
+ 20 percent increase in malware attacks (all malicious software families)
+88 percent increase in ransomware attacks
+51 percent increase in banking trojan attacks

Cybercriminals targeting Morocco prefer phishing attacks as they are simple to prepare, with low cost.

Saudi Arabia:

+164 percent increase in phishing attacks
+ 4 percent increase in malware attacks (all malicious software families)
+378 percent increase in ransomware attacks
- 56 percent decrease in banking trojan attacks

In Saudi Arabia, the ransomware attacks increased five times in one year. Cybercriminals abandoned banking trojans which decreased 56 percent in order to adopt ransom attacks.

South Africa:

+65 percent increase in phishing attacks
-12 percent decrease in malware attacks (all families)
+64 percent increase in ransomware attacks
+17 percent increase in banking trojan attacks

In South Africa, ransomware attacks increased despite the total number of malware attacks decreased 12 percent. Phishing remains the most destructive cyber threat in the country.

Turkey:

+115 percent increase in phishing attacks
+ 10 percent increase in malware attacks (all malicious software families)
+278 percent increase in ransomware attacks in 2018
+10 percent increase in banking trojans attacks in 2018

In Turkey, ransomware remains the main threat, increasing 3.7 times in one year. Phishing is also common as the number of attacks more than doubled in one year.

UAE:

+135 percent increase in phishing attacks
+ 6 percent increase in malware attacks (all malicious software families)
+12 percent increase in ransomware attacks
+112 percent increase in banking trojan attacks

The UAE ranked eighth in the top 10 most attacked countries by financial threats last year. Financial threats remain the most common breach, with phishing and trojans doubled their attacks in a year.

Kaspersky on cryptocurrencies

“Cryptocurrencies are a great idea, but the world is not ready for them yet. The world must be united if we want to have encrypted currencies. At the moment, governments will want to control them.

“I believe that in the future, perhaps in 100 years’ time, all the world’s governments will be one government. States will unite under the (Government of the Earth) and only then we will have one currency. Some other currencies may be available, but on a global scale the currency will be unified.

“I think that in the future the currencies will be digital rather than paper. Today’s digital currencies, such as Bitcoin, cannot replace the current financial system, but some of the ideas and techniques on which these currencies are based can be used in the future currency with little modification, leveraging blockchain technology.”

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