Anti-Virus Pioneer Evgeny Kaspersky 'I Fear the Net Will Soon Become a War Zone'
Evgeny Kaspersky is one of Russia's top Internet virus hunters and IT entrepreneurs. In a SPIEGEL interview, he discusses a raft of recent hacker attacks on multinationals, the "total professionals" behind the Stuxnet virus and his fear of both personal and widespread cyber violence.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Kaspersky, when was the last time that a virus hunter like you fell victim to a cyber attack?
Evgeny Kaspersky: My computer was almost infected twice recently. When someone returned my flash card to me at a conference, it was infected with a virus. But then our own virus program helped me. The second time, the website of a hotel in Cyprus was infected. These kinds of things can happen to anyone, no matter how careful you are. I need protection just like anyone else. After all, a specialist on sexually transmitted diseases also relies on condoms for protection.
SPIEGEL: Virologists sometimes rave about the deadly perfection of the viruses they study. Do you still ever get excited yourself about the technology of a computer virus?
Kaspersky: The more sophisticated a virus is, the more exciting it is to crack its algorithm. I'm happy if I can do it. Okay, sometimes there's a little professional respect involved, too. But it has nothing to do with enthusiasm. Every virus is a crime. Hackers do bad things. I would never hire one.
SPIEGEL: You and your company are the winners of a new era in warfare.
Kaspersky: No, because this war can't be won; it only has perpetrators and victims. Out there, all we can do is prevent everything from spinning out of control. Only two things could solve this for good, and both of them are undesirable: to ban computers -- or people.
SPIEGEL: Although your company Kaspersky Lab now employs more than 2,000 employees, it's a small business compared with antivirus software makers like McAfee and Symantec. Can you ever catch up with them?
Kaspersky: We're certainly trying. Russia is our most important competitive advantage. Moscow produces the world's best programmers. It has a large number of outstanding technical universities. And although Russians can't build cars the way you Germans can, they do write brilliant software.
SPIEGEL: You were once trained as a cryptologist by the KGB. Does that at all hinder your expansion in the West?
Kaspersky: No, but the fact that we are a company with Russian roots does. We occasionally sense a certain amount of suspicion. Nevertheless, we are now No. 1 in Germany, are growing rapidly in the United States and even have customers within NATO.
Kaspersky: A defense ministry. I won't reveal the name of the country.
SPIEGEL: Which countries do most viruses come from?
Kaspersky: It's hard to say because viruses unfortunately don't carry ID cards. We can at least usually identify the originator's language, and that's at the moment the inventor communicates with his virus and gives it a command.
SPIEGEL: Russian programmers don't only do good things. We assume that they also dominate the virus business.
Kaspersky: Based on the number of programmed viruses, we are in third place behind China and Latin America. Unfortunately, Russians are also among the most sophisticated and advanced players in criminal cyber activity. These days, they invent viruses and complex Trojan programs on demand. They launder money through the Internet. However, the largest number of harmful programs are written in Chinese. This means that they can be coming directly from the People's Republic, but also from Singapore, Malaysia and even California, where there are Mandarin-speaking hackers.
SPIEGEL: Surprisingly enough, very few viruses seem to be coming from India even though it's a rising star in the IT world.
Kaspersky: In general, the crime level in India is low. It's probably a matter of the mentality. India and China have roughly the same population, the same computer density, a similar standard of living and similar religious roots. But China spits out viruses like they were coming off an assembly line.