The Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, which has long been in federal investigators’ crosshairs over its close relationship with the Kremlin, is about to lose all of its U.S. government customers. On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security directed federal agencies to scan their networks for Kaspersky security software and, within 90 days, begin removing it.
“The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security,” DHS said in a statement. The move is sure to ratchet up tensions in America’s digital conflict with Moscow, and it raises questions about how, if at all, the Kremlin will respond.
The decision to ban Kaspersky from government computers wasn’t easy, but it was necessary, according to Rob Joyce, President Donald Trump’s cybersecurity coordinator. “We took a hard look at it, and we made risk decisions based on the technology and the environment, and it’s unacceptable for the federal networks,” Joyce told reporters Wednesday after speaking at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit in Washington. He said the administration did consider the possibility that Moscow would retaliate by banning American security companies from selling their software in Russia. And he acknowledged that DHS’s 90-day timetable was “aggressive” but said the White House was “pushing departments and agencies to work aggressively toward it.”
The decision drew swift praise from lawmakers who have spoken frequently about Russian cyber threats. “First and foremost, we need to defend our own digital infrastructure,” said Rep. Will Hurd, the chairman of the House Oversight IT Subcommittee, at the Billington conference. “I’m sure there will be many conversations about this, but I trust DHS, I trust the national security staff, to make these decisions based on actual threats.” Even so, he conceded, retaliation is a concern. “I don’t think getting into a tit-for-tat with Russia is in anybody’s interests,” Hurd said. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who has been pushing for a government-wide Kaspersky ban, told POLITICO that the “strong ties between Kaspersky Lab and the Kremlin” were “very alarming” and praised DHS’s decision as “a significant step forward.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees elections, echoed the sentiment, calling it a “very smart decision” in light of the regular Russian digital assaults on American infrastructure.