After months of current and former U.S. government officials warning against using cybersecurity products developed and sold by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke issued a binding operational directive on Wednesday telling all federal agencies to get Kaspersky software off their systems within 90 days.
“This action is based on the information security risks presented by the use of Kaspersky products on federal information systems,” Duke said in a release announcing the BOD. “The department is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks.”
Duke cited the anti-virus’ broad access to files and secure areas of federal networks on which the software is installed.
“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,” she added.
The directive gives agencies 30 days to identify all instances of Kaspersky products on their networks; 60 days to work up plans to remove those products; and 90 days to implement those plans. That means agencies must be clear of Kaspersky by Dec. 12, “unless directed otherwise by DHS based on new information.”
“This is a risk-based decision we need to make,” White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce said Wednesday while speaking at the annual Billington Cybersecurity Summit. “For us the idea of a piece of software that’s going to live on our networks, going to touch every file on those networks, going to be able to at the discretion of the company decide what goes back to their cloud in Russia — and then what you really need to understand is under Russian law the company must collaborate with the FSB. So for us in the government that was an unacceptable risk.”
DHS said Kaspersky will be given a chance to offer a “written response addressing the department’s concerns or to mitigate those concerns,” an offer that is also extended to other companies that feel they will be adversely impacted by this directive.
“Given that Kaspersky Lab doesn’t have inappropriate ties with any government, the company is disappointed with the decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but also is grateful for the opportunity to provide additional information to the agency in order to confirm that these allegations are completely unfounded,” Kaspersky Lab told Fifth Domain in an email Wednesday.
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U.S. intelligence community officials have long been skeptical of Kaspersky products being used within the government and critical infrastructure, though few have spoken publicly about those concerns.
Richard Ledgett, who was most recently deputy director of NSA until his retirement at the end of April, spoke about the U.S. intelligence community’s concerns in a July podcast interview.
“The concern over Kaspersky is well founded and I think that there’s growing recognition — there has been for a while and more recently [within] Congress — that we probably don’t want that in really significant parts of the government or critical infrastructure networks,” he said.
Ledgett, like most current officials, noted there is much he cannot say on this topic.
Fifth Domain reporter Mark Pomerleau contributed to this report.
Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.