Antimonopoly justice: wheels finally turning, or another flash in the pan?

Business done successfully will always tend toward becoming bigger. C’est la vie.

It often goes like this: In a given field, the big and strong gobble up the small and… smart (exceptions prove the rule). But what also sometimes happens is the big and strong with breakthrough technologies in one field gobble up everyone in different field. Example: once upon a time there was the giant, all-powerful Kodak, but then the era of digital photography came along, and the film-based photography field was wiped out. And this is how scientific-technical revolutions come about, and they’re useful: they help humanity progress.

But there’s another scenario: the big and strong become… so incredibly big and strong that they start dictating rules to all the other players in their industry, they strangle the natural selection of innovative and successful companies, and even try to hamper the development of any allied companies or markets that represent potential danger for their business. And in this case, antimonopoly bodies have to intervene to put a stop to such abuse of power so as to protect progress.

Domination in a market isn’t unlawful under antimonopoly rules. However, companies that dominate have a special responsibility not to abuse their power by limiting competition.

This latter scenario is being played out right now on a (socially-distanced) stage in a suspenseful IT-show whose main characters are Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – operators of the world’s largest online platforms – three of which (all bar Facebook) also act as the world’s largest online marketplaces. The other main characters in the show are the U.S. authorities, which are trying to rein in these online platforms – meaning checking they’re not unfairly taking advantage of their powerful positions – including hindering their ability to be judge, jury and executioner in their marketplaces. They are trying to prevent unfair competition – including exertion of pressure on competitors to ease promotion of the marketplaces’ own products. I’ve already written about one such high profile show case like this: the one where Apple has been driving out independent developers of parental control applications from its App Store.

Let me give an analogy here:

A landlord starts to lease out his land to farmers on equal terms and conditions, which suit everyone just fine. But at the same time, the landlord keeps a close watch on the farmers to see which are doing best. The following year, he starts doing what those successful farmers do himself. He also changes the terms and conditions of the leases ‘to protect worms’: now all farmers under those leases aren’t allowed to use spades – they must use trowels, and they should stop using fertilizer. But this rule doesn’t apply to the landlord. It’s like, he’s not actually preventing the farmers from going about their farming business – and he’s declaring worthy intentions – but how on earth can the farmers with trowels compete with the landlord with his spades and the very latest fertilizer?

Sounds all very Middle Ages, right? But a similar thing is happening in 2020 – only not in farming but in the modern digital economy; however, finally, the powers-that-be appear to be waking up to the fact. Or so it seems…

In early 2019, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a watershed interview to The Verge, in which she stated that she “would classify any company that runs a marketplace and makes more than $25 billion a year in revenue as a ‘platform utility’, and prohibit those companies from using those platforms from [sic] selling their own products.” Put simpler – incidentally when referring to Apple in particular – she stated: “Either they run the platform or they play in the store”.

And that was that: despite the fact these were Very Big Boys she was talking about, the starting gun was duly fired…

Read on…

Top-5 K-technologies that got us into the Global Top-100 Innovators.

We’ve done it again! For the second time we’re in the Derwent Top 100 Global Innovators – a prestigious list of global companies that’s drawn up based on their patent portfolios. I say prestigious, as on the list we’re rubbing shoulders with companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec and Tencent; also – the list isn’t just a selection of seemingly strong companies patents-wise: it’s formed upon the titanic analytical work of Clarivate Analytics, which sees it evaluate more than 14,000 (!) candidate companies on all sorts of criteria, of which the main one is citation rate, aka ‘influence’. And as if that wasn’t tough enough, in five years the threshold requirement for inclusion in the Top-100 on this criterion has risen some 55%:

In a bit more detail, the citation rate is the level of influence of inventions on the innovations of other companies. For us, it’s how often we’re mentioned by other inventors in their patents. And to be formally mentioned in another company’s patent means you’ve come up with something new and genuinely innovative and helpful, which aids their ‘something new and genuinely innovative and helpful’. Of course, such an established system of acknowledging other innovators – it’s no place for those who come up with mere BS patents. And that’s why none of those come anywhere near this Top-100. Meanwhile, we’re straight in there – in among the top 100 global innovator companies that genuinely move technological progress forward.

Wow, that feels good. It’s like a pat on the back for all our hard work: true recognition of the contributions we’ve been making. Hurray!

Still reeling – glowing! – from all this, ever the curious one, I wondered which, say, five, of our patented technologies are the most cited – the most influential. So I had a look. And here’s what I found…

5th place – 160 citations: US8042184B1 – ‘Rapid analysis of data stream for malware presence’.

Read on…

Flickr photostream

  • Sochi / Sep 2020
  • Sochi / Sep 2020
  • Sochi / Sep 2020
  • Sochi / Sep 2020

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Cyber-yesteryear, pt. 8: 1998-2000 (three firsts: restructuring, overseas office, partner conference).

The first few years after the founding of the company were the toughest of all because we really had to put the hours in, aka, bust our asses. It was like we were compressing a spring for it only later to be released to take the company up high and far beyond the horizon and in the right direction of pipe dreams (be careful what you have pipe dreams of:). After the formal registration of KL in 1997, with very little we did an awful lot. We had no money and hardly any resources, but the cybersecurity conveyor waits for no one: new technologies were needed, and the market demanded new products. So we toiled and slogged, working most weekends, and with hardly ever a vacation. So what were we working on? Here’s an example…

June 1998: the global Chernobyl (CIH) virus epidemic. All the other AV companies either didn’t notice it or didn’t bother with it, or were on vacation; we were almost the only one with a product that not only caught, but also cured systems infected with this pathogen. The www (i.e., already not just Runet:) was dotted with links to our site. That’s how we were rewarded for our super-speedy reactions to new threats – that and our ability to launch quick updates with procedures for treatment of specific threats. While this specific virus-threat incredibly craftily installed itself into Windows memory, hooked file-access calls, and infected executable files – all of which required a custom-designed dissection process that would have been impossible to deliver without flexible functionality of updates.

So – tough: yes; but we were getting results and growing. And then, two months later, we received a helping hand (of fate?!) of the most unexpected kind…

August 1998: the Russian financial crisis, featuring devaluation of the ruble, plus Russia defaulting on its debt. It was bad for most Russians on the whole, but we were reeeaaal lucky: all our foreign partners paid us in advance in foreign currency. We were an exporter. Our operating/working currency – a heavily devalued ruble; our income – dollars, pounds sterling, yen, etc. We were in the money!

But we didn’t rest on our ‘lucky’ laurels amid the financial crisis. We used the period also to take on new, professional – expensive! – managers. Soon we had commercial, technical and finance directors. And a little later we started to take on mid-level managers too. This was our first ever ‘restructuring‘ – when the ‘team’ became a ‘company’; when friendly, organic relations were replaced by a more formal organizational structure, subordination and accountability. The restructuring could have been painful; thankfully it wasn’t: we just got on with it without too much nostalgia for the old family-like times.

// For all about this kind of reorganization-restructuring-‘reengineering’ – I highly recommend the book Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy. It’s a real good one. Other useful books – here.

In 1999 we opened our first foreign office – in Cambridge in the UK. But, like, what with the British market being perhaps one of the toughest to crack for foreigners, why there? Actually, it was kinda just by chance (I’ll tell you how below). Still, we had to start somewhere, and anyway, our first experiences – including many mistakes and lessons learned – in the UK helped in making development of the business in other countries run a lot smoother…

Our first ever press tour took place in London, as we were in the British capital anyway for an IT security conference (InfoSecurity Europe). On that press tour we proudly announced our intention of opening an office in the UK. But the journalists would simply ask why, given that there were already Sophos, Symantec, McAfee and so on already comfortably established in the country. So we switched to geek mode: we told them all about how our company was a truly innovative one, and all about our unique technologies and products and how – because of them – we’re better than all the competition they’d just mentioned. All this was noted with much surprised interest (and another bonus: ever since then really silly questions have never been asked of us!). Meanwhile, at InfoSecurity Europe I gave my first ever speech to an English-speaking audience made up of… two journalists, who turned out to be from our friends at Virus Bulletin who already knew plenty about us! Still, that was the first – and last – time any of our presentations weren’t full-house (btw: details – here).

As regards our first ever partner conference, here’s how that came about..

Some time in the winter of 1998-1999 we were invited to the partner conference of our OEM partner F-Secure (Data Fellows). And that’s how we learned about the whole partner-conference format and what a great idea it is: to gather everyone together, share all the latest information about technologies and products, to hear out partners’ concerns and problems, and to discuss new ideas. Not ones to hang about – within a year (in 1999) we put on our own partner conference, inviting ~15 partners from Europe, the U.S. and Mexico to Moscow. Here we all are, on Revolution Square next to Red Square and the Kremlin:

Read on…

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Easing back to (a new) normal.

We’d just started getting used to – even comfortable with – working from home every day and to ‘social’ distancing (wouldn’t ‘physical’ distancing have been a better term?:). Our partner conferences and other events had only just got back up to pre-lockdown scale in terms of the number of folks taking part – albeit online. I’d just gotten used to 10/15/20 kilometers of running of a morning before breakfast. In short, everything was going in one direction. But then the other day, out of the blue, suddenly things seemed to slam into reverse when I was asked, via the good K folks in our PR department, to do an interview – ‘on camera, in the office – tomorrow please!’. Well, well. All righty!…

Indeed, it looks like were heading back, slowly, to ~normality, despite the masks and sanitizer, after months without normal daily social interaction in person. Part of me thinks: ‘Good’ – let’s get back to work‘ (a fave phrase of mine). Another part of me recalls: ‘But, we have been working – as normal – throughout the whole of lockdown!’. Still, I do miss the office – seeing people, being among people, talking to people in person, as I’m sure many do, despite some of the upsides to working from home which surprisingly became apparent.

Anyway, the other day, I gave my first physically face-to-face interview in over three months. It was about one of our (cloud-related) business partnerships. Hmm – actually, it wasn’t quite ‘face-to-face’; it was ‘mask-to-mask’ – for practically the whole film crew and interviewer, of course, were masked up. I suggested to them that I join in and put one on, but they didn’t fancy that idea much. Still, as you can see, the ‘social distancing’ (even ‘distant socializing’ might be a better phrase:) rules were strictly followed.

Read on…

Cyber-yesteryear – pt. 7: 1997 (Me Lab founded).

Back with more K cyber-nostalgia – this post takes us back to a very special year for the company – the year of its founding! And as you can see from the date on our company registration certificate – that founding took place on June 26, 1997:

And that’s why we have our yearly mega-birthday-bash every June July (don’t ask; what’s a month among friends?!) – only not this year: the first time we’ve ever not had one. Shame. But what can you do?

I remember our first birthday party the following year in 1998, in a fairly rough bowling alley. Not too impressed with such a setting, we made amends the following year – already branching out into the countryside surrounding Moscow, where it’s been every year since, and where I really hope it will be again next year.

Here’s another curious K-tale from the summer of 1997…

Read on…

Exploring Russia: Tourism ÷ lockdown × accelerator = winners’ podium!

Mid-spring this year, at the very peak of the everyone-at-home period, it became obvious that things were looking very bleak for the world, and would stay bleak for a long time. Business would be hard hit, to put it mildly, while the tourism industry would be fairly devastated, with many a business within it not pulling through the crisis. So we at K did what we often always do – put our thinking caps on – and decided… to help out this most badly affected of industries.

Early May I announced that the ‘Kaspersky Exploring Russia’ tourism accelerator had started accepting applications. But I never guessed that more than 500 would be sent in – from 47 countries (nearly a quarter of all the countries in the world!) on five continents (all bar Antarctica!). And looking through them I realized just how much potential there is in the tourism industry – so many ideas, and so many great startups and existing projects. There were no geographical restrictions for applications: they could have – and did – come from anywhere on the planet, but they had to describe tourism ideas that could either tap the potential of Russian tourism or be applied in Russia. We sifted through all the applications to pick a top-10 very best ideas, and those 10 entered the accelerator program.

And for two weeks the 10 projects took part in online master classes and lectures. Each team had a series of specially tailored consultations with mentors. Leading industry figures shared with participants their experiences and know-how for building up a successful business. Mentors included: Vikas Bhola, regional director of Booking.com; Gemma Rubio, founder of Define the Fine; Vadim Mamontov, general director of Russia Discovery; and other industry professionals. And over those two weeks the participants also polished their presentations, which they then gave to the jury, which I was on.

Last week the finalists gave their presentations and answered our questions in the final demo-day of the accelerator. Out of those, we chose three winners, to which were awarded prizes from our partners. Let me tell you a bit about each of them…

First place was taken by 360 Stories. It’s a mobile augmented reality app with a live guide. They say their mission is to ‘modernize the traditional touring experience by powering interactive live tours using real-time guides’. With 360 Stories folks can now remotely roam their favorite cities and attractions by signing up for a personalized touring experience with a real-time local guide.

Btw: 360 Stories nearly lost – by oversleeping and not turning up! Its presentation was given at 05:30 local time – New York. Given such an early rise, Mr. 360 Stories slept in, despite having set his alarm. He wakes up eventually, and calls the organizers to ask why he had 20 missed calls on his phone. They were all to tell him he’d won, and ask – ‘where are you?!’

Read on…

Cyber-yesteryear – pt. 6: talking to the media.

Last week I realized I’d been in lockdown-isolation-quarantine for a full quarter-year. Three months sat at home, with only a couple of brief trips to the deserted office, plus every weekend at the dacha with the similarly isolated family. Like for everyone – a very extraordinary daily existence. For me – no planes/airports, no hotels, no meetings or speeches: in short – very little travel.

However, everything’s relative: in three months we’ve all traveled 230+ million kilometers (a quarter of a full orbit of Earth around the sun)! And that’s without taking into account the fact that the Solar System itself travels at some crazy speed. One thing that hasn’t changed much since lockdown began is business meetings – they’ve simply all moved online. Ah yes – and all our business in general is carrying as usual, unaffected by biological viruses ).

But enough lockdown talk; you’re probably tired of hearing anything in connection with it. Accordingly, herewith, I continue with more of my tales from the cyber-past side; this time – interviews with newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, plus assorted other public performances. (I was reminded of my ‘media relations’ activity while recalling my week of interview-hell at CeBIT long ago the other day when compiling my CeBIT recollections (Cyber-yesteryear, pt. 4). And it turns out I’ve plenty to relate to you about interesting experiences talking to the media and public speaking and all that – plenty that’s fun and unusual, plus of course a few (brightened and polished) photos too.

And there’ll be all sorts of different sizes and flavors of media-tales coming up too: from speeches in practically empty halls – to rammed stadiums! From unknown tiny local media publications – to top-tier global media household-name conglomerates! From professional lectures at leading universities and/or with specially tech-equipped audiences – to informal lectures about the wonders of arithmetic on a ship sailing to… Antarctica via Drake Passage! Eugene is the name; variation is the game ).

Right. I guess the logical place to begin is right at the start…

Read on…

Cyber-yesteryear – pt. 5: 1996 (game-changer year).

Herewith, more tales from back in the day about how our company went from humble beginnings to what we are today. And this cyber-yesteryear series – it’s all thanks to… lockdown! I’d have never found the time for such meanderings down cyber-memory lane otherwise…

Just in case you missed them, here are the previous installments:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

All righty. Part 5: 1996. Truly a fateful, watershed year…

First, at KAMI, where I was still working, the owners decided to break away. As a result KAMI was split up into several independent organizations. And in the following year – 1997 – we broke away too.

Second, we signed an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) contract with the German company G-Data to supply them with of our antivirus engine. That contract ran for a full 12 years – up to 2008! – when we became No.1 on the German retail market. That’s just how it went. Our original-tech prowess was unstoppable! But what were we to do? But, anyway, it was G-Data who’d approached us (we weren’t able to actively seek out tech-partners back then), offering Remizov – boss of KAMI – cooperation, culminating in the signing of the contract at CeBIT, as described in Part 4. And that was how our technology-licensing business took off.

After the Germans (in 1995) came the Finns – F-Secure (in 1996), then known as Data Fellows. Let me tell you about how our cooperation with them started.

In August 1995, the first ever macro virus appeared, which infected Microsoft Word documents. It turned out that writing macro viruses was very straightforward, and they were being spread at alarming rates among a great many unsuspecting users. This caught the attention of other virus writers, and very quickly macro viruses became the biggest headache for the antivirus industry. Detecting them was far from easy, since the format of a Word document is most complex (who knew?:). So for several months AV firms played shamen using various methods, until when, in early 1996, McAfee (the company:) announced the ‘correct’ disassembly method for the format of Word documents. That news was latched onto by our colleague Andrey Krukov (who’d joined our collective in 1995), and he quickly came up with a most elegant and effective tech solution. I put the word out about this, and pretty soon companies started approaching us with offers to buy our technology. Having garnered several such offers, we arranged a meet with them all – at the upcoming Virus Bulletin Conference in Brighton, UK, where Andrey and I traveled to in the fall of 1996.

In Brighton, things hardly went to plan: none of those meetings ever came to anything! However…

Read on…

Cyber-yesteryear – pt. 4: CeBIT.

Finally, summer’s arrived. Took it’s time! But I’m not sure it’s the blessing it normally is, since we’re all still sat at home working remotely. Sure, there have been ‘easings’ here and there around the world, but we here at K are in no rush to… rush things. I think that goes for other IT companies too that will be working from home till at least fall, while some have signaled they’re on for staying home until the end of the year. And of course business trips are still being cancelled, as are exhibitions and conferences and Olympic Games and Cannes Festival and a whole load of other large-scale events. Some countries still have closed borders too.

So yep: we’re all still cooped up, not getting out much, and getting a bit stir crazy with the cabin fever. At least that’s how things are for many, I’m sure. There are others who are taking advantage of all the extra time and getting more exercise than ever, the devils! I’m somewhere in-between. Sometimes tired of Groundhog Every-Day, but staying busy. And that includes dusting off and delving into my archives to dig up some old photos, which lead to fond memories (plus reminders of how quickly the world is changing), which lead to… my next cyber-yesteryear post!

Yes, this series combines cyber-nostalgia, plus various personal and business insights I’ve picked up along the cyber-way, which I hope will be useful to some, or just interesting to others. Accordingly, I continue here today with part four, and I continue my tales, begun in part three, about CeBIT

CeBIT – we loved it to bits! It was just sooo new and different and massive and…

Read on…

Whether still locked-down at home or free – must-read books, part 3!

Looks like I’m just in time with the third and final part of my book recommendations series: stay-at-home restrictions are easing seemingly everywhere. Still, staying home looks like what many will continue to do anyway, so this part-three isn’t too late really. But, even during ‘normal’ times, reading is totally must-do, surely? It’s not like these recommendations have an expiry date! Ok, enough intro; here are my recommendations – category: science fiction!

Yes, I’m a science fiction buff, and have been since I was a kid. I remember looking forward to our regular visits to some friends of my parents who had a really impressive (for the times) collection of sci-fi on their shelves. I’d just disappear for hours, fixated by a work like those by Jules Verne (Captain Nemo), H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man), and Alexander Belyayev (Amphibian Man, Professor Dowell’s Head), which I’d get through in a few hours! Later came Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and I, Robot, Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust, Simak’s parallel worlds (proto-multiverses), Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Earthsea stories, and much more.

I could dig endlessly on this topic, but here, for brevity’s sake, I’ll stick to my top-3 all-time fave sci-fi writers; rather – top-4, as two brothers wrote together (the Strugatskys). Btw – I have the complete works of the Strugatskys, and also of Kurt Vonnegut in hardback! (Yes, I prefer actual books; we stare at screens enough IMHO:). 

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The master-maestros of the genre. They started out in the 1950s writing utopian-heroic-communist texts, but later changed their tune big time – their heroes changed, as did the problems they had to deal with.

There are a great many super sci-fi writers, but these two are to me the very best. Deeper, more emphatic, more audacious – the thinking person’s sci-fi: more ‘literature’ than sci-fi!

Later in their careers they became all the more philosophical, and conducted literary experiments on identity and society.

I remember clearly my first Strugatsky novel: Beetle in the Anthill, published in 1979 in a Soviet magazine – one chapter per edition (waiting impatiently each month for the next chapter). 

Read on…