The Russian government reportedly modified the popular Kaspersky antivirus software and used it as a spying tool around the world, to find classified U.S. government documents and top-secret information, according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The software usually routinely scans files of computers on which it is installed looking for viruses and other malicious software, but with adjustments to its settings, the program searched for terms as broad as “top secret,” which could be written on classified government documents, The Journal writes.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Russian hackers used Kaspersky’s software in 2015 to target a contractor working for the National Security Agency, who had taken classified materials from his workplace and put them on his home computer, which was running the program.
Kaspersky Lab has long denied claims that it helped the Russian government with spying on other countries. However, many U.S. officials now think the evidence the U.S. has collected shows the company is a witting partner, said people familiar with the matter.
A former U.S. official with knowledge of the information that was hacked in 2015, told The Journal that the nature of the software is such that it would have had to be programmed to look for specific keywords, and Kaspersky’s employees likely would have known that was happening.
Kaspersky Lab on Wednesday said in a statement that “it was not involved in and does not possess any knowledge of the situation in question, and the company reiterates its willingness to work alongside U.S. authorities to address any concerns they may have about its products as well as its systems.”
Last week, a Kremlin spokesman didn’t address whether the Russian government stole NSA materials using Kaspersky software, The Wall Street Journal adds.
It’s still unclear how many other government computers or employees may have been targeted using the Kaspersky product or whether secret government material was stolen, said the people familiar with the matter. After discovering the 2015 hack, U.S. officials began gathering other evidence that Kaspersky was being used to identify classified information and assist in its theft, The Journal notes.