US Proposal Sanction on Russian Cybersecurity Firm

The Biden administration is split over whether to impose sanctions on Kaspersky Lab; the Kremlin could use a Russian cybersecurity giant that officials warn as a surveillance tool against its customers.

According to officials, the White House’s National Security Council has pressed the Treasury Department to be ready for the sanctions as part of the broad Western campaign to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

While Treasury officials have been acting to prepare the package, sanctions specialists within the department have expanded concerns over the size and scope of the move. In addition, the company’s software is used by hundreds of millions of consumers across the world, making it hard to enforce the sanctions.

In addition, some administrators in the U.S. and Europe fear sanctioning Kaspersky Lab will increase the likelihood of initiating a cyberattack against the West by Moscow, even potentially leveraging the software.

It wasn’t clear whether the sanctions would move forward, and one official said the idea had been put on hold for now. The debate reflects how agencies within the Biden administration weigh in real-time options to deliver more economic distress to the Russian economy in reply to its invasion of Ukraine.

Kaspersky Lab has repeatedly rejected that it works with Russia or any government to facilitate cyber espionage or other malicious cyber activity. On Wednesday, the company said it hoped to discuss the U.S. government’s concerns about its products and services and said any proposed actions would be “a response to the geopolitical climate rather than a comprehensive evaluation of Kaspersky’s products and services.”

cybersecurity

The National Security Council deferred questions to the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department declined to comment.

Sanctions of this nature typically block or freeze the assets of companies or individuals targeted and bar U.S. citizens from employing in transactions with those companies or people.

Western intelligence officials have long warned that Kaspersky Lab’s software could be secretly used to spy on users at the Kremlin’s behest. As a result, the U.S. and its partners have been suspicious of the company’s ties to Moscow.

Since its ban from U.S. federal government networks, Kaspersky Lab has reported double-digit declines in North American revenue. However, it has enjoyed global growth fueled by sales in parts of Europe and the Middle East.

Many Western cybersecurity researchers view Kaspersky Lab as an essential contributor to global efforts to understand, identify and deter malicious hackers. Moreover, some U.S. officials have privately acknowledged that the alleged relationship between Kaspersky Lab and the Russian state would be similar to how U.S.-based cyber firms cooperate with U.S. intelligence agencies.

U.S. officials said that the Biden administration is preparing sanctions targeting Russian firms that deliver goods and services for the troops and intelligence assistance, including dual-use parts used in weapons proliferation.