WASHINGTON – Computer systems at 15 per cent of U.S. government agencies were running Kaspersky Lab software that’s been banned because of concerns about the company’s ties to the Kremlin and Russian spy operations, a top Homeland Security Department official told Congress on Tuesday.
In July, the General Services Administration removed Kaspersky from its list of approved federal vendors. In September, the Homeland Security Department directed all U.S. federal agencies and departments to stop using products or services supplied directly or indirectly by the Russian-owned and operated company.
About 94 per cent of all federal agencies met the mid-October deadline to determine whether they were using any Kaspersky products, Jeanette Manfra, assistant secretary, told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. She said the department is helping the remaining agencies, which are small and do not have the tools to scan their systems.
“Out of all the federal agencies, a small number have identified the use or presence, in some aspect of their systems, of Kaspersky-branded products — about 15 per cent of agencies that have reported,” she said.
The software must be removed from all information systems by mid-December.
Kaspersky has repeatedly insisted that it does not have unethical ties or affiliations with any government, including Russia’s. The company has stated that it has never helped any government in the world with its cyberespionage or offensive cyber efforts.
The DHS directive provided Kaspersky an opportunity to respond or mitigate the department’s concerns.
The department gave the company a one-week extension to the Nov. 3 deadline. It received a “significant” response on Friday, Manfra said, adding that it was being reviewed by department lawyers.
She said the lawyers have told her the directive was legal, but she also mentioned the possibility that Kaspersky could file a lawsuit against the government over the ban.
The chief executive of the software company, Eugene Kaspersky, is a mathematical engineer who attended a KGB-sponsored school and once worked for the Defence Ministry. His critics say it’s unlikely that his company could operate independently in Russia, where the economy is dominated by state-owned companies and the power of spy agencies has expanded dramatically under President Vladimir Putin.
At a Senate intelligence committee hearing in May, top U.S. officials were asked whether they would be comfortable with Kaspersky software on their computers.
“No” was the reply given by then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo and then-Defence Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart.