US Treasury Sanctions Kaspersky Leadership Team
US Treasury Sanctions Kaspersky Leadership Team

By Naveen Athrappully

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned 12 Kaspersky Lab employees holding executive and leadership roles in the firm, citing “continued cybersecurity risks.”

On June 20, the U.S. Department of Commerce banned Kaspersky from selling its antivirus software and other cybersecurity products in the country after determining that the company was subject to the Russian government’s jurisdiction, which forces it to comply with information requests from Moscow.

That might lead to personal information stored on devices with the company’s antivirus software getting into the hands of Russian authorities, the commerce department said.

The following day, on June 21, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on 12 individuals in executive and senior leadership roles at AO Kaspersky Lab, according to a statement.

The sanctioned individuals include four members of Kaspersky’s board of directors, including the chief business development officer, chief legal officer, and chief operating officer. The CEO wasn’t sanctioned.

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC,” the Treasury said.

“In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.”

The sanctions prevent U.S. citizens or those within the United States from engaging in any transactions that involve the property of the sanctioned individuals.

The latest measures were taken under Executive Order 14024, which allows the sanctioning of individuals or entities identified as “furthering specified harmful foreign activities of the Russian Federation.”

In a June 22 statement, Kaspersky called the Treasury’s decision “unjustified and baseless,” saying the decision continues recent U.S. government judgments based on “present geopolitical climate and theoretical concerns” rather than a comprehensive evaluation of the company’s offerings.

“Neither Kaspersky nor its management team has any ties to any government, and we consider the allegations quoted by the OFAC as pure speculation, which lacks concrete evidence of a threat posed to U.S. national security,” the firm said.

“None of the listed members have any ties to the Russian military and intelligence authorities or have anything to do with the Russian government’s cyber intelligence objectives.”

Brian E. Nelson, the undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, justified the sanctions against Kaspersky leadership, saying it shows the department’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the U.S. cyber domain and to protecting citizens from “malicious cyber threats.”

“The United States will take action where necessary to hold accountable those who would seek to facilitate or otherwise enable these activities,” Mr. Nelson said.

Kaspersky Threat

In the action against Kaspersky, the Commerce Department found that Kaspersky has the ability to install malicious software on its customers’ computers or to selectively deny updates. That could leave American citizens and U.S. critical infrastructure vulnerable to malware attacks, the agency’s bureau of industry and security said.

Kaspersky’s software also is integrated into third-party products and services. As such, people who use third-party products could unknowingly introduce Kaspersky’s programs into their devices or networks, thus potentially compromising personal data, the bureau stated.

Kaspersky has said it has implemented “significant transparency measures” to ensure the firm’s trustworthiness, and that its measures are “unmatched” by any of its peers in the cybersecurity industry.

The Commerce Department’s ban “unfairly ignores the evidence,” Kaspersky said. “The company intends to pursue all legally available options to preserve its current operations and relationships.”

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security issued an operational directive asking government agencies to stop using Kaspersky products. In March 2022, Germany’s cyber security agency, the Federal Office for Information Security, also warned against using Kaspersky products.

The German agency warned at the time, “In the context of the war that Russia is waging against Ukraine, a Russian IT manufacturer could itself carry out offensive operations, or be forced against its will to attack target systems, or be spied on as the victim of a cyber operation without its knowledge, or be misused as a tool for attacks against its own customers.”

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