The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has warned against Russian antivirus software Kaspersky, which it says is at risk of government surveillance and misuse. The German cybersecurity agency issued this warning in response to Russia’s threats against the European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Germany.
BSI Warns Russian Threat Actors Could Compromise Software
Specifically, BSI warns that Kaspersky could be used to attack systems against the company’s will. There’s also the possibility of Kaspersky being spied on without its knowledge or used to stage attacks against its userbase, BSI said.
In response to BSI’s warning, the company said in a statement: “We believe this decision is not based on a technical assessment of Kaspersky products – that we continuously advocated for with the BSI and across Europe – but instead is being made on political grounds.”
“Kaspersky is a private global cybersecurity company and, as a private company, does not have any ties to the Russian or any other government,” it added.
Is Kaspersky Anti-Virus User Privacy in Danger?
Moscow-based company Kaspersky Lab is required to comply with Russian law, which means state agents may access the databases of private firms (like Kaspersky Lab).
In its statement, BSI emphasized that antivirus software like Kaspersky Anti-Virus typically has high-level privileges on Windows systems. One such privilege is maintaining a constant connection to the antivirus’s servers so that the software is always updated with any new malware threats.
Real-time protection features also mean that the software can upload suspicious files to remote servers for further analysis. Privacy concerns stem from this specific ability, as antivirus developers can extract sensitive files from users. Responding to BSI, Kaspersky emphasized that its data-processing infrastructure was relocated to Switzerland in 2018.
“Since [the relocation], malicious and suspicious files voluntarily shared by users of Kaspersky products in Germany are processed in two data centers in Zurich that provide world-class facilities, in compliance with industry standards, to ensure the highest levels of security,” Kaspersky said.
“The security and integrity of our data services and engineering practices have been confirmed by independent third-party assessments: through the SOC 2 Audit conducted by a ‘Big Four’ auditor, and through the ISO 27001 certification and recent re-certification by TÜV Austria,” it added.
What User Data Does Kaspersky Anti-Virus Have?
According to Kaspersky’s official website, the following user data is collected and processed in order to provide their security services:
- License/subscription information: Information on a user’s subscription or license.
- Product information: Data on product operations, such as how long scans take and which features are used most.
- Device data: Information such as device type, operating system, etc.
- Threats detected: Information about threats, both new and known.
- Information on installed applications: Data used to create “allowed” or “whitelisted” application lists.
- Links visited: URLs of websites visited, sent to Kaspersky so it can check if the page is malicious or not.
- Operating system events: Data on all the processes and programs being run on your computer.
- Suspicious files: “Mainly” executable (.exe) files that perform suspicious actions or contain suspicious code.
- Wi-Fi connection data: Information on Wi-Fi connections, used to warn users about insecure Wi-Fi connections.
- User information: User’s email address (required), specified name/s (optional), and specified contact information (optional).
- Dump and trace files: Error reports (manually approved by the user before being sent to Kaspersky).
- Emails: Any information gathered from having access to your email inbox (required in order to check emails for spam).
- Data about stolen devices: Data collected is unspecified.
- Data for the child protection feature: Parameters specified to block or permit specific websites on a child’s device (connected with Kaspersky Safe Kids).
- Purchases made: Any purchases made on your Kaspersky account.
What to Do if You Use Kaspersky Anti-Virus
Kaspersky Anti-Virus users from outside of Russia likely need not worry about their data privacy. However, we always recommend being extra careful about protecting your information online, such as through the use of virtual private networks, password managers, and antivirus programs.
If you need an alternative to Kaspersky Anti-Virus, we also have a readied list of recommended antivirus software. Users who need increased protection in light of current events are advised to use encrypted messaging apps and secure browsers, like Tor.