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Issue #551: February 11-17, 2018

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Q: I currently use Kaspersky for my Anti-Virus and Internet security program. I know that this is a Russian owned company and, given all the real fears about Russian hacking, I’m a little concerned about continuing its use on my personal computer. So, I’m thinking of switching to another Internet security program once my subscription to Kaspersky expires in a couple of months. I’m currently looking at Norton, McAfee, or System Mechanic Pro. Your thoughts?

– Herb B.
Niceville, Florida

A: To many people it might seem like rampant over-paranoia to be concerned about an anti-virus company being involved with any sort of hacking, merely because that company happens to be Russian-owned.  Viewed through the lens of 2018, one might assume this is just an outgrowth of the “Russian hacking” investigation currently plaguing the Trump administration, and/or the allegations of Russian interference in the last presidential election.  However, U.S. military intelligence organizations flagged Kaspersky as a potential security threat as far back as 2004.  Indeed, there have been numerous reports that Russia successfully exploited software from Kaspersky Lab in order to dig through U.S. systems for classified information, and is known to have succeeded in at least one case.  In another case, North Korea is known to have successfully hacked into military files on South Korean computers, including highly-classified data on joint U.S.-South Korea strategies in the event of a war.  This breach again was accomplished using antivirus software to launch the attack.

In 2017, the U.S. government banned Kaspersky software from all U.S. government computers.  Kaspersky Lab vehemently denies any and all involvement in such hacking, declaring that their software does not contain any “illegal and unethical” undeclared capabilities, such as backdoors, that would allow an outside agent to access the computer upon which it is installed.  Kaspersky in-turn launched a lawsuit against the U.S. Government in December, demanding that the Department of Homeland Security rescind its ban on Kaspersky products.

What a soap opera!  We just want our PCs to be protected from malware, right?  So, we single-out Kaspersky, because it’s tied to Russia.  Well I happen to know that John McAfee, founder of McAfee Software was accused of both rape and murder in 2012, resulting in an international manhunt for him, and revelations of some of his personal, uh, “appetites” that might curl your hair.  How could we possibly trust software from the company of a man with that kind of history?  I bet that I could probably dredge up some dirt on Peter Norton too, if I tried hard enough.

So, the question is, exactly how to you judge the trustworthiness of the companies whose software you install on your PC?  Anti-virus software is especially pernicious, since by its very nature it is given access to, and is even expected to access every single file on your PC.  How can you, the end-user possibly know what the software is doing with your private information, and moreover, the general security of your PC as it sifts through all your files?  The answer is that you probably can’t.  However, there are people out there who make their living analyzing such things and making the results public.  As with so many things, this information is only a Google search away, and I would highly encourage anybody who has concerns about their choice of anti-virus/anti-malware software to take advantage of this information.  To get you started, I’ll share with you part of the research that I used in writing this column.  Visit Google, and enter “Can I trust Kaspersky 2017”.  You’ll only get about 877,000 results.  Read what Tom’s Guide has to say on the topic, and also read what’s being said about other anti-malware packages by other analysts.  Choosing software you feel comfortable with is an important decision, and one that’s getting tougher to make all the time.  Good luck!

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