Israeli Hackers Watched Russian Spies Breach Kaspersky Software
An Israeli security agency hacked into Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab in 2015, providing the crucial evidence required to ban the company from providing services to the US government, according to a report.
While the Israeli spies were inside Kaspersky's systems, they observed Russian spies in turn using the company's tools to spy on American spies, the New York Times reports. That information, handed to the US, led to the decision in September to end the use of the company's software across the federal government by December.
The revelation answers some questions about the unfolding saga around Kaspersky Lab, a previously well-regarded information security firm founded in 1997 by Russian national Eugene Kaspersky. It seems to demonstrate why the US believes that Kaspersky Lab software was involved in the hacking of an NSA contractor in 2015, as well as narrows down the nature of Kaspersky Lab's supposed involvement in the Russian operation.
But it still leaves many further questions unanswered. Crucially for Kaspersky, the Israeli hack apparently failed to provide enough information to determine whether it was a willing, or even knowing, participant in the Russian espionage.
The Russian government exercises tight control over domestic and foreign high-tech industries operating within its borders. In June 2017, it began demanding the source code for certain software imported, ostensibly to search for "backdoors" inserted by foreign intelligence agencies. In practice, it's widely believed that the Russian security agency scans the source code for undisclosed vulnerabilities it can use to improve its own hacking prowess.
Kaspersky vehemently denies any involvement in Russian state-sponsored hacking. "Kaspersky Lab was not involved in and does not possess any knowledge of the situation in question," the company told the Guardian.
"Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts, and contrary to erroneous reports, Kaspersky Lab software does not contain any undeclared capabilities such as backdoors as that would be illegal and unethical.
"It is also important to note, Kaspersky Lab detects all kinds of threats, including nation-state sponsored malware, regardless of the origin or purpose. The company tracks more than 100 advanced persistent threat actors and operations, and for 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organizations from these cyber-threats -- its headquarters' location doesn't change that mission."
In the tangled web of spies spying on spies, it can be difficult to take any statement at face value. The Israeli security community has long had a tense relationship with Kaspersky Lab, dating back to the company's research on Stuxnet, a specialized piece of malware created by the US and Israel to harm Iran's nuclear industry.
In fact, the highly sophisticated Israeli hacking operation that targeted Kaspersky appears to have used the same malware that was used to spy on the Iran nuclear negotiations in 2014 and 2015.
Israel's hacking of Kaspersky reportedly occurred in the same period Kaspersky publicly acknowledged that it had been targeted by a "state actor." Kaspersky said that the malware used in the attack was derived from the Stuxnet virus.
At the time Kaspersky researchers disclosed that dozens of machines in its networks had been infected by the Duqu 2.0 spyware, which appeared to be attempting to access research and information, and which Kaspersky staff described at the time as being a "generation ahead" of anything they had seen before.
Although there was no concrete proof until now, Kaspersky suspected Israel of being behind the attack, not least because the same malware was being used to target the P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program. Kaspersky researchers also found that the work schedules of the Duqu attackers suggested they were physically located in or near to Israel.
Kaspersky said: "With regards to unverified assertions that this situation relates to Duqu2, a sophisticated cyber-attack of which Kaspersky Lab was not the only target, we are confident that we have identified and removed all of the infections that happened during that incident. Furthermore … Kaspersky Lab publicly reported the attack, and the company offered its assistance to affected or interested organizations to help mitigate this threat."
The latest revelations over Israel's electronic espionage activities appear to have come closer to joining the dots linking a series of Israeli cyber-spying and cyberwar operations dating back to at least 2011, beginning with the use of Stuxnet.
In 2015 officials in the Obama administration told journalists that Israel had spied on the nuclear negotiations and used material that it had acquired to attempt to lobby the US Congress in 2015 to derail the deal.
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