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The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

RDC: Welcome back to The Costa Report. I’m Rebecca Costa, and Luis Alvarez, the CEO the Alvarez Technology Group has joined us to give us our latest technology fix – welcome back Luis. . .

LA: Thank you Rebecca, I am always happy to be here with you.

RDC: So Luis – what kind of mindbender you have for us today?

LA: Well, Rebecca, – as you know Russia has been in the news a lot lately, thanks mainly to Vladimir Putin’s desire to relieve the bygone era of the Cold War. It seems like he is enjoying jabbing the West in as many areas as possible, geographically, politically, militarily and, now, even on the technology front.

RDC Did you say the technology front? Now that’s a new spin on an old problem. .

LA: I though it might be. . . just last week, Bloomberg News reported on a world famous cybersecurity company called Kasperky Lab, accusing the principals of the firm of having unusually close ties to the Russian government, including the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency that came out of the old KGB.

RDC: So Bloomberg is saying these are government sponsored cyberattacks?

LA: According to Bloomberg, the CEO of the company – a gentleman named Eugene Kaspersky – was educated at a KGB-sponsored cryptography institute, and then went on to work for Russian military intelligence. In fact, they also note that to this day, the he gets together weekly with 5 to 10 senior Russian government officials – including those from the intelligence services – to enjoy a sauna treatment. So – you ask – why should we care that the CEO of a cybersecurity company is enjoying a spa day with Russian spies? Well, Kaspersky Lab sells their security software all over the world, including the United States, and many American companies use the software to protect against cyber threats on their PCs and servers.

RDC: So you’re saying that the US government and businesses are using cyber security software developed by a Russian who was trained by and worked for Russian Intelligence and still has close ties with them? That is absolutely frightening Luis. . .

LA: The Bloomberg article went further – implying that the cozy relationship between the Kaspersky and the Russian government may indicate that Kaspersky is spying on their clients in the U.S. and elsewhere on behalf of the Russians – and also providing back-door access to the very systems it says it is protecting.

RDC: Well can you blame folks for being a little concerned? So what does Kaspersky say about this?

LA: Well, as you would expect – excutives at Kaspersky, including the CEO, vehemently deny the allegations and they point to the fact that many American cybersecurity companies like Symantec and McAfee have a similarly tight relationship with the U.S. government and do business overseas.

RDC: And that is true. . .

LA: All of these companies will tell you that working closely with local governments isn’t that unusual. After all, when there’s a cyber attack or a new threat, it makes sense that private and public agencies work together to respond. Still, ever since the Edward Snowden revelations about how closely the US intelligence agencies like the NSA and the CIA were tied to companies like Google and Microsoft, private industry and privacy rights advocates have been worried that there’s more going on there than we know.

RDC: Speaking of which I don’t know if you say the HBO documentary on Edward Snowden called Citizen 4 bit if you haven’t I just got around to seeing it and I want to recommend it to everyone listening to this broadcast because it was very well done and gave me a completely different perspective on Snowden himself. Anyhow – back to Kaspersky- any evidence to support our worries?

LA: Well, critics note that Kaspersky has released several reports in the recent past detailing the efforts of western countries to hack into networks in Russia and Eastern Europe yet they rarely talk about the role of Russian hackers attacking the West. Some people see this is a sign that the company is trying to cover for the Russian government, which Kaspersky denies. But this brouhaha just illustrates the problem that a number of tech firms all around the world face, because many of them are started by former government officials with the support of funds from those governments. It’s not just in Russia and the US either; there are a number of Israeli cybersecurity firms that were initially funded and nurtured by Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence service and China is notorious for the number of tech companies that were started by the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army. The PLAs support of some Chinese tech companies is so brazen and
open that many of those firms aren’t able to be used by US government agencies for fear of back-doors and security holes that Chinese officials could exploit.
RDC: So this really speaks to a much bigger issue. .

LA: It does. And regardless of the accuracy of the Bloomberg article, and I admit that as a technologist I am somewhat dubious of the article’s conclusions myself – the fact of the matter is technology startups – especially those focused on cybersecurity – get a lot of support from the government, and there’s no way of knowing whether that’s a good or bad thing right now.

RDC: Well that’s all the time we have so it sounds like we are going to have to wait and see how this all shakes out. . .thanks for stopping by again Luis and bringing us the latest news in technology.
LA: Thank you Rebecca. This is Luis Alvarez from the Alvarez Technology Group reminding you that when it comes to technology, forewarned, is forearmed!

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