There are many ways to make up something sensationalist in the media. One of the practical ways is to speculate and create conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, there’s a demand for such stories and they have a very good chance of making a splash.
So how can a global company with Russian roots play a part in a conspiracy theory? Well, this one is easy: there should be some devilish inner job of the Russian secret services (to produce the “I knew it!” effect). In many cases you can change the adjective “Russian” for any other to produce a similar effect. It’s a simple yet effective hands-on recipe for a sensationalist article. Exploiting paranoia is always a great tool for increasing readership.
There are questions we’ve answered a million times: what are our links with the KGB? Why do you expose cyber-campaigns by Western intelligence services? When do you plan to hire Edward Snowden? And other ones of the ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ kind.
We’re a transparent company, so we’ve got detailed answers ready. Of course we want to dispel any speculation about our participation in any conspiracy. We’ve nothing to hide: we’re in the security business and to be successful in it you have to be open to scrutiny.
To my great regret, there are occasions when journalists publish something sensationalist without taking account obvious and/or easily obtainable facts contrary to their sensationalist claims, and produce stories that are at odds with professional ethics. And sometimes a bad tabloid journalism style finds its way into otherwise quality media publications. I’d like to comment on one such case.
The fashionable fever of looking for Kremlin-linked conspiracies this week reached some journalists at Bloomberg. Curiously, this happened not long after our investigation into the Equation Group.
— Eugene Kaspersky (@e_kaspersky) March 20, 2015
It’s been a long time since I read an article so inaccurate from the get-go – literally from the title and the article’s subheading. So it came as little surprise that a large part of the rest of the article is simply false. Speculations, assumptions and unfair conclusions based on incorrect facts. In their pursuit for a sensation, the journalists turned things upside down and ignored some blatantly obvious facts.
My congratulations to the authors: they’ve scored high in bad journalism.
But that’s where the emotion stops today. Now let’s just look at the cold facts – rather, lack of them. Let me go through some of the most outrageous and twisted gaffes.
I must have said this a million times, but we do not care who’s behind the cyber-campaigns we expose. There is cyber-evil and we fight it. If a customer comes and shows us a problem we investigate it. And once we take the genie out of the bottle, there’s no way we can put it back.
But since these journalists tried to attribute the cyberattacks we exposed to the countries mentioned, for some reason they forgot about our reports on Red October, CloudAtlas, Miniduke, CosmicDuke, Epic Turla, Penguin Turla, Black Energy 1 and 2, Agent.BTZ, and Teamspy. According to some observers, these attacks were attributed to Russian cyber-spies.
The only other statement that can compete with this one in terms of frequency, silliness and falsity is: ‘AV companies write the virus themselves’.
Let me spell it out and use a few capitals: I’ve NEVER worked for the KGB.
My detailed biography has been widely distributed around the world and can be easily found online. It clearly states (I wonder if the journalists read it) that I studied mathematics at a school sponsored by they Ministry of Atomic Energy, the Ministry of Defense, the Soviet Space Agency and the KGB. After graduating, I worked for the Ministry of Defense as a software engineer for several years. But whatever… as they say, ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’. Right?
Looks like the Bloomberg journos behind the story read my post (but not in detail; otherwise they’d have taken the article down) and made a minor edit to their text. Now, I never worked for KGB but for … Russian military intelligence!
For the record: I never worked for Russian military intelligence. As I mentioned above, I worked as a software engineer at the Ministry of Defense.
Bloomberg spots that Kaspersky is Russian, fails to point out nationality of FireEye, MFE, SYMC, In-Q-Tel etc. etc.http://t.co/H0w74rbCS4
— Rik Ferguson (@rik_ferguson) March 20, 2015
Is there an implication here that the ‘quickly removed by headquarters’ was to cover up some secret truth – before it got out? Maybe not. But if you do see a possible one, let me tell you what happened:
the design of the our antivirus software box with the KGB mention was developed by our Japanese partners. I learned about it only after it was printed, and asked to have it changed as it just wasn’t true, which was done.
And if there’s a further implication that the mention was removed because we were going global and recruiting ‘senior managers in the U.S. and Europe’ (with whom KGB mentions might not sit well), well then that’s not right either. We were already global. Our American, European and Asian employees (who now make up more than a third of total company’s headcount) had no say in it. Even if they did – so what? Bottom line – I never served in the KGB!
First, people join and leave organizations all the time. Second, we value only professional qualities in our people. Third, there’s no evidence of ‘closer’ – not even close – ties to Russia’s military or intelligence services. Must say though, I’d be really interested to find out who’s joined our top management team since 2012 who has ‘closer ties to Russia’s military or intelligence services’. I’m dying of curiosity!
I do appreciate this interest in my recreational-prophylactic habits. While the reader may visualize naked male bodies in a steam room and dicussions of conspirational plans to conquer the world, the truth of the matter is quite something else. It highlights another way in which the journalists ignored our emailed comments to them to sacrifice objectivity for quirky details and stereotypes.
First, sometimes I do go to the banya (sauna) with my colleagues. It’s not impossible that there might be Russian intelligence officials visiting the same building simultaneously with me, but I don’t know them.
— Eugene Kaspersky (@e_kaspersky) March 20, 2015
Second, we do fight cybercrime. And without cooperating with law enforcement agencies around the globe (including in the U.S., the UK, Japan, other European countries; INTERPOL and Europol) our battle would have been significantly less effective than it has been recreational – if not completely futile.
Official meetings sometimes do turn pretty informal, including with officers belonging to the security services of the U.S., the UK, Japan, other European countries; INTERPOL and Europol (oops, I’m repeating myself). And I consider the stories about my possible encounters with security officials in a banya an attempt to deliberately mislead readers; the journalists don’t mention that we are impartial in our fight against cybercrime, no matter where it strikes. A warning, dear readers: don’t believe everything you read!
‘Gotcha, we’ve caught you! You investigate only US operations and not Russian!’
Well, this one’s real simple. FireEye did some great research, so publishing our own after theirs made no sense. We carefully read the FireEye report, warned our users and… kept on researching the Sofacy operation. BTW, our experts are still working on it, as it’s closely connected to the MiniDuke operation. But please don’t ask why FireEye didn’t announce MiniDuke! You know the answer (hint: who was the first to uncover it?).
— codelancer (@codelancer) March 20, 2015
That is false statement.
We’ve launched an internal investigation, carefully examined all our archives for the last three years, and haven’t found such an email. Those who know Garry personally know he’s not the kind of man to write such things.
Does two-year compulsory military service of 18-year old private Chekunov equal working for the KGB? Really? Dear authors, why did you miss the detail where, in the USSR, military service was obligatory for all males, and it was random which particular service you served in? Some entered the infantry, others the submarine division of the navy. Mr. Chekunov served in the Soviet Union’s Border Service for two years, and at that time the service reported to the KGB.
Russians banya nights. The nerve center of all secret operations’ planning!
Actually, here, thanks are due to the authors for the PR! Our Computer Incidents Investigation Unit (CIIU) helps our clients deal with sophisticated cyber-incidents. If law enforcement agencies contact us, we help – regardless of their country. We assist with our world-class expertise any law enforcement agency to save the world from any cyber-evil.
— Thomas Rid (@RidT) March 20, 2015
The Computer Incidents Investigation Unit (CIIU) has remote access to the personal data of our users? That is a false statement.
Next: the keyword here is ‘can’. Theoretically, any security vendor can do that. Following this logic you can imagine what nasty things Facebook, Google or Microsoft can theoretically do. Theoretically, authors of an article can stick to facts.
The reality, however, is that I’ve no reason to risk my 700mln$ business. Everything we do and can do is stated in the End-User License Agreement (EULA). Moreover, we reveal our source code to large customers and governments. If you have any fears about backdoors – come and check. Seriously. Referring to a theory is an allegation unworthy of a respectable publication.
This part explains a lot. Some folks who get fired have a chip on their shoulder. Human nature. It’s common. They have some media contacts – they fancy getting their ‘revenge’. Same old!
I am just worried about how respected media put their reputation on the line based on speculation. As a result we have a perfect example of a sensationalist headline:
Bloomberg's Management Committee includes US citizens only. Does it mean Bloomberg has close ties to US spies? http://t.co/3AAuMPg90e
— Eugene Kaspersky (@e_kaspersky) March 20, 2015
The result of the investigative journalism revealed these REAL facts:
- I go to banya;
- We hire and fire employees; employees leave of their own accord;
- 60% of our employees are Russians;
- Our Chief Legal Officer served in the Border Control when he was 18 and at that time the service was a part of the KGB.
Mysterious covert data which proves I’m a KGB spy?! This world-famous news agency undertook a huge investigation – believe me, it was impressive! During the fact checking they asked very detailed, probing questions, yet all they came up with were… unproved allegations. Do you know why?
Because there’s nothing there to find.
It’s very hard for a company with Russian roots to become successful in the U.S., European and other markets. Nobody trusts us – by default. Our only strategy is to be 1000% transparent and honest. It took years to explain who we are. Many people attempted to find ‘dirt’ on us – and failed. Because we’ve nothing to hide.
Actually, I’d like to thank Bloomberg and all the journalists behind this story! Much like our antivirus often does, they performed a full system scan –and found nothing. It’s like a halal or kosher stamp – check! External audit successfully passed.
‘The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there’s no cat.”
.@e_kaspersky responds to Bloomberg’s allegations in connection with Russian LETweet
So, tell me, what do you think of this whole story: