US Bans Kaspersky Anti-Virus Software

TikTok-type "national security" theatrics move from legislative to administrative arena

Effective September 29, the US Commerce Department has banned American sales of, and software update downloads for, Kaspersky Lab’s globally popular cybersecurity/anti-virus software … “because Russia.”

The order “will prohibit Kaspersky Lab and all of its affiliates, subsidiaries and parent company from providing cyber security and anti-virus software anywhere in the United States,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a press briefing. “Russia has shown it has the capacity and even more than that, the intent, to exploit Russian companies like Kaspersky to collect and weaponize the personal information of Americans.”

Responding to the order, Kaspersky denied that the ban would actually affect its ability to operate in the US and claimed the decision was based on “geopolitical climate and theoretical concerns” rather than any actually established risks.

In tandem with the Commerce Department ban, the US Treasury announced sanctions on 12 of the company’s executives.

Once among the most popular anti-virus applications, Kaspersky has taken a popularity hit in the US over the last eight years. The US government cultivated and exploited moral panic associated with the (since thoroughly debunked) “Russiagate” scandal, advancing unproven accusations that, because the software and company are Russian in origin (although operated through a UK-based holding company), they represent a “national security” threat.

In April, US president Joe Biden signed a bill which — if upheld in US courts — ban popular social media app TikTok if its Chinese parent company doesn’t sell it to US operators, also on “national security” grounds.

The Kaspersky ban enjoys no such legislative foundation, consisting entirely of administrative orders from executive branch bureaucrats. The action may be a “soft launch” for banning TikTok even if US courts overturn the legislation.