Anti-Virus Pioneer Evgeny Kaspersky: 'I Fear the Net Will Soon Become a War Zone'

Part 2: Amateurs and Professionals

Photo Gallery: The Fears of an Antivirus Guru Photos
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SPIEGEL: Why is Russia producing some of the most dangerous hacker rings but very few world-class software companies like your own?

Kaspersky: There are a few, but I see a basic problem: In Russia, the level of technical training has traditionally been high, and it has been transferred from teachers to students for generations. But there are no teachers who know how to build a business with this training because, over seven decades of communism, doing business was never allowed to be the focus. Most of today's business leaders are around 50, which means they were born during the Soviet era. They often have a type of Iron Curtain in their minds. They like to go abroad for vacation; but when they do business, they limit themselves to countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union because that's where people speak their language and understand them culturally. I hope to see a new generation that is no longer afraid of other cultures and that speaks English.

SPIEGEL: The Russian search engine Yandex recently raised $1.3 billion (€912 million) in its initial public offering in New York, which was the highest IPO figure in the industry since Google…

Kaspersky: …which is an unbelievably important signal for many people here. A Russian company has shown that it can be successful with the power of our brains rather than with our natural resources. There is an American dream, and now there is a Russian dream, as well: to make money without oil and gas.

SPIEGEL: You once described yourself as an extremely paranoid person. What is the worst possible disaster that a computer viruses could cause?

Kaspersky: In the Soviet days, we used to joke that an optimist learns English because he is hoping that the country will open up, that a pessimist learns Chinese because he's afraid that the Chinese will conquer us, and that the realist learns to use a Kalashnikov. These days, the optimist learns Chinese, the pessimist learns Arabic…

SPIEGEL: …and the realist?

Kaspersky: …keeps practicing with his Kalashnikov. Seriously. Even the Americans are now openly saying that they would respond to a large-scale, destructive Internet attack with a classic military strike. But what will they do if the cyber attack is launched against the United States from within their own country? Everything depends on computers these days: the energy supply, airplanes, trains. I'm worried that the Net will soon become a war zone, a platform for professional attacks on critical infrastructure.

SPIEGEL: When will that happen?

Kaspersky: Yesterday. Such attacks have already occurred.

SPIEGEL: You're referring to Stuxnet, the so-called "super virus" that was allegedly programmed to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities.

Kaspersky: Israeli intelligence unfortunately doesn't send us any reports. There was a lot of talk -- on the Internet and in the media -- that Stuxnet was a joint US-Israeli project. I think that's probably the most likely scenario. It was highly professional work, by the way, and one that commands a lot of respect from me. It cost several million dollars and had to be orchestrated by a team of highly trained engineers over several months. These were no amateurs; these were total professionals who have to be taken very seriously. You don't get in a fight with them; they don't mess around.

SPIEGEL: What kind of damage can a super virus like this inflict?

Kaspersky: Do you remember the total power outage in large parts of North America in August 2003? Today, I'm pretty sure that a virus triggered that catastrophe. And that was eight years ago.

SPIEGEL: Firemen tend to describe the dangers of fire in particularly dramatic terms because they make their money fighting fires. Aren't you just trying to scare people about viruses because that's your bread and butter?

Kaspersky: If I were only interested in the money, my company would have gone public by now. Believe it or not, my primary concern is making the world a cleaner place. Money is important; but if I do my job well, that will take care of itself.

SPIEGEL: Hackers have recently been taking aim at companies like Lockheed Martin, Google and Sony…

Kaspersky: …simply because they can now infiltrate their well-protected security systems to access secret information. This puts companies at risk, but it also jeopardizes entire nations. It's a matter of private industrial espionage, but countries are also involved.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying that governments are behind many of the attacks?

Kaspersky: I don't rule it out.

SPIEGEL: Google has claimed that the attack on its e-mail services was traced back to China.

Kaspersky: I have no information pointing toward China as the actual originator. Professionals do their work through proxy servers. They can be located in China but controlled from the United States. Perhaps it was just competitors -- but people then pointed the finger at China. Anything can happen in our business.

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About Evgeny Kaspersky
Sergei Chirikov/ AFP/ Getty Images
studied at the Institute for Cryptology, Computer Sciences and Communication at the KGB Academy. In 1989, he began to research computer viruses before developing anti-virus software together with friends of his. In 1997, he founded the company Kaspersky Lab together with his wife at the time, Natalia. Now, the company has global sales of 500 million dollars and the 45-year-old is considered to be one of the richest entrepreneurs in Russia.

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