Folks can think for themselves.

Besides a market for its goods or services, a business also needs resources. There are financial resources: money; human resources: employees; intellectual resources: business ideas, and the ability to bring them to life. For some businesses, sometimes even for whole industries, another resource is needed: trust.

Let’s say you decide to buy… a vacuum cleaner. Is trust required of the manufacturer? Not really. You simply buy what seems like the right vacuum cleaner for you, based on a few things like its technical characteristics, how it looks, its quality, and its price. Trust doesn’t really come into it.

However, in some industries, for example finance or medicine, trust plays a crucial role. If someone doesn’t trust a certain financial advisor or pharmaceutical brand, he/she is hardly going to become their client/buy their products – and perhaps never will. Until, that is, the financial advisor/pharma company somehow proves that they are actually worthy of trust.

Well, our business – cybersecurity – not only requires trust, it depends on it. Without it, there can be no cybersecurity. And some folks – for now, let’s just call them… detractors – they know this perfectly well and try to destroy people’s trust in cybersecurity in all manner of ways; and for all manner of reasons.

You’d think there might be something wrong with our products if there are folks trying to undermine trust in them. However, as to the quality of our products, I am perfectly untroubled – the results of independent tests show why. It’s something else that’s changed in recent years: geopolitical turbulence. And we’ve been caught right in the middle of it.

A propaganda machine rose up and directed its dark arts in our direction. A growing number of people have read or heard of unsubstantiated allegations against us, originating in part from media reports that cite (unverifiable) anonymous sources. Whether such stories are influenced by the political agenda or a commercial need to drive sales is unclear, but false accusations shouldn’t be acceptable (just as any other unfairness shouldn’t be.) So we challenge and disprove every claim made against us, one by one. And I choose this verb carefully there: disprove (quick reminder: they have never proved anything; but of course they haven’t: none exists as no wrongdoing was ever done in the first place.)

Anyway, after almost a year since the last wave of allegations, I decided to conduct a sort-of audit of my own. To try and see how the world views us now, and to get an idea as to whether people exposed to such stories have been influenced by them. And to what extent our presentation of the facts has allowed them to make up their own minds on the matter.

And guess what, we found that if people take into account only the facts… well – I have good news: the allegations don’t wash! Ok, I can hear you: ‘show us the evidence!’

Really simple, but enormously useful: on Gartner Peer Insights, the opinions of corporate customers are collected, with Gartner’s team vetting the process to make sure there’s no vendor bias, no hidden agendas, no trolling. Basically, you get transparency and authenticity straight from end-users that matter.

Last year, thanks to the feedback from corporate customers, we were named the Plantinum winner for the 2017 Gartner Peer Insights Customer Choice for Endpoint Protection Platforms! This year’s results aren’t all in yet, but you can see for yourself the number of customers that wanted to tell Gartner about their experience of us and give their overall ratings, and leave positive reviews. Crucially, you can see it’s not a ‘review factory’ at work: they’re confirmed companies of different sizes, profiles, geography and caliber.

And talking of geography – turns out that in different regions of the world attitudes to trust can differ.

Take, for example, Germany. There, the question of trust in companies is taken very seriously. Therefore, the magazine WirtschaftsWoche regularly publishes its ongoing research into levels of trust in companies after polling more than 300,000 people. In the ‘software’ category (note – not antivirus or cybersecurity), we are in fourth place, and the overall level of trust in KL is high – higher than for most direct competitors, regardless of their country of origin.

Then we see what happens when governments use facts to decide whether to trust a company or not. Example: last week the Belgian Centre for Cyber Security researched the facts regarding KL and found they didn’t support the allegations against us. After which the prime minister of Belgium announced that there is no objective technical data – not even any independent research – that indicates our products could pose a threat. To that I would personally add that, theoretically, they could pose a threat, but no more than any other cybersecurity product from any other company from any other country. Because theoretically any product could have vulnerabilities. But taking into consideration our technology transparency efforts, I’d say that our products pose less of a threat than any other products.

Read on: we conducted our own research into the question of trust…

Digital demons – in art and in everyday life.

As regular readers of this here blog of mine will already know, I’m rather into modern art. But when art somehow merges with the anything IT-related, I’m the world’s biggest fan. Well, such a merging is taking place right now in Moscow in its Museum of Modern Art with the exhibition Daemons in the Machine, so supporting it was a no brainer. Artists, consulted by scientists, aimed their creativity at the modern-day topics of artificial intelligence (which, IMHO, is hardly any intelligence at all – just smart algorithms), blockchain, neural networks and robotics. The result is a curious mix of futurology, ethics and – of course – art.

I haven’t been myself as I’m only just back from my latest trip, but I hope to find time for a visit before my next one.

And now, we move from high-art digital demons to everyday, run-of-the-mill – but very worrying – digital demons…

Read on…

Cyber-paleontology: Sounds impressive; its results – more so.

Hi folks!

Let me kick off by paraphrasing a rather famous philosophical postulate: ‘Does a profession determine man’s social being, or does his social being determine his profession?’ Apparently this question (actually, the original) has been hotly debated for more than 150 years. And since the invention and spread of the Internet, this holy war only looks set to be extended for another 150, at least. Now, I personally don’t claim to support one side or the other; however, I do want to argue (based on personal experience) in favor of the dualism of a profession and being, since they mutually affect each other – in many ways and continually.

Toward the end of the 1980s, computer virology came about as a response to the growing proliferation of malicious programs. Fast-forward 30 years, and virology has evolved (rather, merged – in ecstasy – with adjacent fields) into the cybersecurity industry, which now often dictates the development of being IT: given inevitable competition, only the technology with the best protection survives.

In the 30 years since the end of the 1980s, we (AV companies) have been called quite a few different colorful and/or unsavory names. But the most accurate in recent years, IMHO, is the meme cyber-paleontologists.

Indeed, the industry has learned how to fight mass epidemics: either proactively (like we protected users from the largest epidemics of recent years – Wannacry and ExPetr), or reactively (using cloud-based threat-data analysis and prompt updates) – it doesn’t matter. But when it comes to targeted cyberattacks, there’s still a long way to go for the industry on the whole: only a few companies have sufficient technical maturity and resources to be able to cope with them, but if you add an unwavering commitment to expose any and all cyber-baddies no matter where they may come from or what their motives might be – you’re left with just one company: KL! (Which reminds me of something Napoleon Hill once said: ‘The ladder of success is never crowded at the top’.) Well it’s no wonder we’re in a lonely position (at the top of the ladder): maintaining that unwavering commitment to expose literally anyone is waaaaay more expensive than not maintaining it. And it’s waaaay more troublesome given the ongoing geopolitical upheavals of late, but our experience shows it’s the right thing to do – and users confirm this with their wallets.

A cyber-espionage operation is a very long, expensive, complex, hi-tech project. Of course, the authors of such operations get very upset and annoyed when they get caught, and many think that they try to get rid of ‘undesirable’ developers by using different methods via manipulation of the media. There are other, similar theories too:

But I digress…

Now, these cyber-espionage operations can remain under the radar for years. The authors take good care of their investments kit: they attack just a few specially selected targets (no mass attacks, which are more easily detected), they test it on all the popular cybersecurity products out there, they quickly change tactics if the need arises, and so on. It’s no stretch of the imagination to state that the many targeted attacks that have been detected are just the tip of the iceberg. And the only really effective means of uncovering such attacks is with cyber-paleontology; that is, long-term, meticulous collection of data for building the ‘big picture’; cooperation with experts from other companies; detection and analysis of anomalies; and subsequent development of protection technologies.

In the field of cyber-paleontology there are two main sub-fields: ad hoc investigations (after detecting something by chance and pursuing it), and systemic operational investigations (the process of planned analysis of the corporate IT landscape).

The obvious advantages of operational cyber-paleontology are highly valued by large organizations (be they state or commercial ones), which are always the primary target in targeted attacks. However, not all organizations have the opportunity or ability to undertake operational cyber-paleontology themselves: true specialists (for hire) in this niche line of work are few and far between – and they’re expensive too. We should know – we’ve plenty of them all around the world (with outstanding experience and world-renowned names). Thus, recently, given our strength in this field and the great need for it on the part of our corporate customers – true to the market principles of supply and demand – we decided to come up with a new service for the market – Kaspersky Managed Protection (KMP).

Read on…

Cyber-tales from the dark – and light – sides.

Hi folks!

Today I’ve got some fresh, surprising cybersecurity news items for you. The first few are worrying stories about threats stemming from a certain ubiquitous small device, which many folks simply can’t be without just for one minute – including in bed and in the bathroom. The last few are positive, encouraging stories – about women on the up in IT. Ok, let’s dive in with those worrying ones first…

Don’t join the Asacub victim club

These days, folks tend to entrust their (trusty?) smartphones with all sorts of stuff – banking, important work and personal documents, messaging (often with very personal details strictly for a few eyes only), and more. But, hey, you’ll know all this perfectly well already, and may be one of these folks to this or that extent yourself; and if you are – you really do need to read this one carefully…

At the end of August a sharp increase was detected in the proliferation of the Android Trojan Asacub, which exploits that peculiarly human weakness called curiosity. The Trojan sends a text message with words like: ‘Hey John: You should be ashamed of yourself! [link]’, or ‘John – you’ve been sent an MMS from Pete: [link]’. So John scratches his head, becomes as curious as a cat, wonders what’s in the photo, clicks on the link, and (willingly!) downloads an application… which then proceeds to stealthily access his full contact list and start sending out similar messages to all his peers.

But this crafty malware doesn’t stop there. It can also, for example, read incoming texts and send their contents to the hackers running the malware, or send messages with a given text to a given number. And the ability to intercept and send texts gives the authors of the Trojan the ability to, among other things, transfer to themselves funds from the bank card of the victim if the card is digitally connected to the phone number. And as if that weren’t bad enough – there’s a bonus for the victim: a huge bill from his mobile provider for sending all those messages to everybody.

So how can you protect yourself from such fearsome mobile malware? Here’s how:

  • Don’t click on suspicious links;
  • Carefully check which rights are being requested by the downloaded application (e.g., microphone, camera, location…);
  • And last and most: the simplest step – install reliable protection on your Android smartphone.

Android? Hmmm. I can hear all the sighs of relief just now: ‘Aaaaahhhh, thank goodness I’ve got an iPhone!’!

Hold your horses all you Apple lovers; here’s a couple of links for you too (don’t worry: you can click these – honest!):

Read on…

iDeath of eVoldemort

Fairy tales and fantasy stories have long dispelled the myth about the invincibility of global storybook power brokers and villains (as for us, for more than 20 years we’ve been busting the very same myth in cyberspace). Every Voldemort relies on security of his diary, his ring, his snake, his… well, I guess you know all about the Horcruxes. And the success of your war on villainy, whether fairytale or virtual, depends on two key qualities: perseverance and intellect (meaning technology). Today I will tell you how perseverance and intellect, plus neural networks, machine learning, cloud security and expert knowledge — all built into our products — will keep you protected against potential future cyberthreats.

In fact, we have covered the technologies for protection against future cyberthreats before (more than once, a lot more than once, and even for laughs). Why are we so obsessed with them, you may wonder.

It’s because these technologies are exactly what makes robust protection different from fake artificial intelligence and products that use stolen information to detect malware. Identifying the code sequence using a known signature after the malware has already sneaked into the system and played its dirty tricks on the user? No one needs that. “A poultice on a wooden leg,” so to say.

But anticipating cybervillains’ patterns of thought, apprehending the vulnerabilities they’ll find attractive, and spreading invisible nets capable of automatic, on-the-spot detection — only a few industry players are capable of that, sad but true. In fact, very few, according to independent tests. WannaCry, the decade’s largest epidemic, is a case in point: Thanks to System Watcher technology, our products have proactively protected our users against this cyberattack.

The key point is: One cannot have too much future cyberthreat protection. There is no emulator or big-data expert analysis system able to cover all of the likely threat vectors. Invisible nets should cover every level and channel as much as they can, keeping track of all objects’ activities on the system, to make sure they have no chance ever to cause trouble, while maintaining minimum use of resources, zero “false positives,” and one hundred percent compatibility with other applications to avoid blue screens of death.

The malware industry keeps developing, too. Cybervillains have taught (and continue to teach) their creations to effectively conceal themselves in the system: to change their structure and behavior, to turn to “unhurried” action modes (minimize the use of computing resources, wake up on schedule, lie low right after penetrating the target computer, etc.), to dive deep into the system, to cover up their traces, to use “clean” or “near-clean” methods. But where there is a Voldemort, there are also Horcruxes one can destroy to end his malicious being. The question is how to find them.

A few years ago, our products beefed up their arsenal of proactive technologies for protection against advanced cyberthreats by adopting an interesting invention (patent RU2654151). It employs a trainable objects behavior model for high-accuracy identification of suspicious anomalies in the system, source localization and suppression even of the most “prudent” of worms.

Read on…

Dutch hacker, big cyber-politics, and the anatomy of ‘real’ fake news.

Almost 21 years ago, I embarked on a mission to make the world a safer, better place. Today, we’re proud to protect with our cybersecurity solutions the digital lives of over 400 million consumers and 270,000 organizations around the world. Like many other companies whose aim is enhancing people’s lives, we also know that the higher you go, the stronger the winds can be. For us these winds include false media reporting. And in today’s environment of ‘media-ocracy’ and fake news, the situation is getting worse.

For nearly four years now, certain U.S. media outlets have been printing outlandishly preposterous false stories about cyber-conspiracies concocted between secret service folks and Yours Truly against the ‘free world’.

Evidence suggests that a Dutch politician is behind a fake story about Kaspersky Lab in the biggest Dutch daily newspaper

These tales from the paranoid side about us all fit the same template. Accordingly, their basic structure and rhetoric are always identical:

  • Unnamed U.S. intelligence officials share certain ‘shocking details’ about [insert as applicable] with a select few representatives of a given media outlet;
  • Anonymous sources are mostly used; any ‘sources’ cited are incompetent/unqualified to be sources;
  • Zero evidence of any wrongdoing on our part is presented (logical: there is no wrongdoing);
  • Distortion of reality based on the Pareto principle (80% truth + 20% fiction = monstrous lie);
  • These media stories are then used as a basis for taking political decisions (proof).

Incidentally, you may be wondering why, if all the stories about us are indeed false, we’ve never taken legal action in the U.S. The short answer to that is that U.S. legislation makes establishing the truth of a media story very difficult. Meanwhile, we get a ‘media-ocracy’ – with ‘news’ that isn’t news at all, just a vehicle for instilling in readers’ minds images of an ‘enemy’, so as to influence the underlying opinions of the people reading those media. But it doesn’t stop there. This non-news is used to justify high-level political moves against the next-in-line-to-be-out-of-favor company. Yes, of late it’s not just KL being pinpointed; this is growing bigger and bigger every month, affecting other companies too.

Worryingly, this media-ocracy is very influential – and highly contagious; so much so that it can now be felt all around the world, not just in America. And that now includes even the Netherlands.

Media-ocracy: vehicle for instilling in readers’ minds images of an ‘enemy’ and using false allegations for taking political decisions. Alas, it’s highly contagious.

On February 3 of this year, the largest Dutch national daily newspaper, De Telegraaf, published a ‘sensational’ article about a hacker who, allegedly, had claimed to have hacked into the network of our Dutch office (from just outside the building) and managed to obtain a number of IP addresses – all as part of a supposed investigation to help uncover a leak in the Dutch parliament – a leak organized to help ‘the Russians’. Inevitable questions like why specifically we were hacked, why those particular IP addresses were obtained, etc. are left unanswered, but for us the key thing to be addressed was the claim that someone had breached our own highly secure corporate network.

So yes, we took the claims very seriously. We’re a cybersecurity company, remember?! So naturally we carried out an internal investigation. And guess what it showed. No hack occurred. But that’s only the start of this sorry tale.

Read on: It gets even more ridiculous…

Features you’d normally never hear about (ver. 2018): KFP – Keeps your Funds Preserved!

When it comes to choosing an item of clothing – the only thing that’s important for me is functionality. Nice packaging, a designer brand, status level and other stuff don’t matter to me one bit. Same with cars really: if one gets you from A to B in good time, safely, and in reasonable comfort (so, maybe with a/c.) that’s all that really matters.

The same ‘ignore the unimportant stuff’ principle should be applied when it comes to one’s choice of cybersecurity product too. One really should – though many don’t – make sure one doesn’t fall for the ‘other stuff’ (= marketing waffle) that has no relation to actual protection. For it turns out that in thorough independent testing, new glamorous ‘next-generation antivirus’ products are shown to contain under their hoods fake artificial intelligence, adopted AV detection, and ‘protection’ full of holes. Put another way: they’re placebos, nothing more. So, in order not to become a victim of shiny marketing based on unsound security, you need to lift the hood yourself to have a look at how things work.

Of course, not everyone has the time and patience and technical knowledge to be able to plough through technical documentation of a cybersecurity product and understand it. But even if someone did, there’s still a chance the developer is mostly spinning a yarn throughout all that techy jargon.

With us, on the other hand, it’s just the opposite: we’re proud of our technologies, openly publish their technical details (without the yarns) and consider that anyone can understand them if explained appropriately. Ultimately we’re the most transparent cybersecurity company around – even to the extent that we’re ready to share our source code for inspection.

But to add to the clarity and accessibility of some of our tech, seven years ago, I started a series of regular posts on this here blog with the technology tag, in which all the main points of our more complex tech features are explained in simple language (complex tech features ‘you’d normally never hear about’, much less – read about in the regular, for-geeks-only technical notes). These are the largely invisible – under-the-hood – features, but they’re the ones that happen to be the real nuts-and-bolts of our cyberprotection.

Ok. Intro over. Today’s post is about how banks recognize a hack into your bank account.

Let’s say that one day you get a message from your bank that goes along the lines of: ‘Suspicious activity has been detected on your account…’. The first thing you do is go over the last few days trying to recall everywhere you’ve been, where you withdrew cash and how much, what you bought in shops/cafes, etc. and/or online, and so on.

In my case, it may look like this: (i) withdrew Norwegian kroner from an ATM in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway; (ii) bought a steak and a beer salad and a mineral water in Oslo Airport, Norway; (iii) bought the missus a present in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Holland – plus another salad and mineral water for lucky me; (iv) somewhere in the vicinity of the Azores bought some airplane internet access time; (v) withdrew some balboas in Tocumen Airport in Panama; and (vi) paid for dinner for a large party in a village not far from Panama City. And that was all in just one day!

Now, of course, to a bank, that string of transactions with a credit card – registered in none of the countries mentioned – sure could look suspicious. Quite who starts the day in the northernmost town in the world, buys an expensive duty free item a while later in a European capital, and ends up in Panama in the evening and forks out for a banquet, but has never taken such an unusual route before ever?

Sure. But let’s face it, banks can’t keep track of their millions of clients. How many employees would they need to do so? No, instead, the bank has a smart automated system (like Kaspersky Fraud Prevention (KFP)) that recognizes fraud automatically and with a high degree of accuracy. Ok, let’s have a look under KFP’s hood and see how it protects your money.

Each client of a bank has a model of behavior: a mathematical graph that contains the devices (computers, smartphones, tablets) and accounts of the user, bank services used (e.g., internet banking), and also rules for interaction among all the just mentioned. The model is built on the basis of collected anonymized data about specific activity of the client on the internet and using mobile bank. Crucially, the system isn’t interested in concrete transactions, sums involved, invoice details, names and so on – banking secrecy remains banking secrecy. Threats are calculated based solely on technical metadata and analysis of anonymized actions.

Such an approach allows to automatically detect many different kinds of cyber-fraud.

Example 1: Citizen X uses his internet banking application on his home computer. To authenticate his identity he uses the USB token given him by the bank. But since for protection he’s installed a next-generation antivirus based on a ‘cutting-edge AI system’, one day a malicious Trojan gets through. That Trojan – assisted by the token being forgotten about and left in the USB port – starts to transfer money on the quiet from Citizen X’s account. But it’s not ‘on the quiet’ for the banking anti-fraud system, which detects the anomalous behavior quickly, blocks the operation and informs the bank’s security department.

KFP control panel

Read on…

Nǐ Hǎo, cyber-chief!

Ni Hao folks!

Last Friday we had the pleasure of receiving none other than Xu Lin, China’s chief of cybersecurity and internet policy. Naturally, it was time to roll out the red carpet.

We’ve been working in China now for more than 15 years. In that time we’ve come a long way: from literally nothing (zero market presence) to a well-recognized brand (Ka-Ba-Si-G; the whole naming thing in China is a whole other story – on for another day) and good contacts in high places. We meet with Chinese regulators regularly (funny, but I’m sure those two words are unrelated:), more often than not in Beijing, but sometimes also in Wuzhen. Well it was Moscow’s turn this time to host one of our meets.

Read on…

An open letter to the management of Twitter.

“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

Dear Mr. Dorsey and the rest of the senior management of Twitter,

I see that of late you’ve been having concerns about the ‘health’ of your social media platform, and how it can be used maliciously for spreading disinformation, creating social discord, and so on. As a long-time advocate of a safe and friendly internet, I share these concerns! Though I thought my company stood on the periphery of this social media storm, it turns out I was quite mistaken.

If this is a mistake please openly admit this. This would quash any doubts about potential political censorship on Twitter.

At the end of January of this year, Twitter unexpectedly informed us about an advertising ban on our official accounts where we announce new posts on our various blogs on cybersecurity (including, for example, Securelist and Kaspersky Daily) and inform users about new cyberthreats and what to do about them. In a short letter from an unnamed Twitter employee, we were told that our company “operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.”

“OUR DETERMINATION THAT KASPERSKY LAB OPERATES USING A BUSINESS MODEL THAT INHERENTLY CONFLICTS WITH ACCEPTABLE TWITTER ADS BUSINESS PRACTICES”

Huh? I read this formulation again and again but still couldn’t for the life of me understand how it might relate to us. One thing I can say for sure is this: we haven’t violated any written – or unwritten – rules, and our business model is quite simply the same template business model that’s used throughout the whole cybersecurity industry: We provide users with products and services, and they pay us for them. What specific (or even non-specific) rules, standards and/or business practices we violated are not stated in the letter. In my view, the ban itself contradicts Twitter’s declared-as-adopted principle of freedom of expression. I’ll return to that point in a minute, but first let’s look at the others:

Read on: Common sense hasn’t died. It just appears to be having a gap year…