Jim Armitage: Cyber-security guru Eugene Kaspersky chuckles his way through a litany of computer scare stories

Global Outlook Spend an hour or so with Eugene Kaspersky and you come out thinking the world looks slightly more sinister.

One of the most-famous cyber-security gurus, thanks to his company's famed work analysing the Stuxnet computer virus, the Russian founder of Kaspersky Lab has a better insight than most into how vulnerable our everyday lives are to the threat of hackers.

Stuxnet, the computerised worm that damaged Iran's nuclear programme, is the best known, perhaps, but Mr Kaspersky reels off a host of other recent attacks on everyday infrastructure orchestrated by baddies around the world.

He tells of how Latin American drug cartels knocked out the IT running Antwerp's shipping port so they could unload cocaine-filled containers untroubled by customs officials; how Russian mobsters hacked into the software of a mining company, allowing them to siphon off tonnes of coal to sell on the side unnoticed; how another Russian gang printed themselves loyalty cards for a chain of petrol stations which, thanks to a clever bit of hacking, granted them huge discounts every time they filled up.

With each story, his chunky frame rocks with wheezy laughter, shaking his longish, greying hair. Unshaven and casual, he has the cheeky manner of a middle-aged rock star – and wealth to match.

You can see how much he respects the crooks and gangsters pulling off these cyber capers, too. After describing the coalmine heist, he grins widely: "And they were doing it for five years – that's COOL!". Cue another burst of Muttley-style chuckling.

Other cyber incidents are more mysterious. All the speed cameras in Moscow were knocked out in January by a hacking attack, he says: "No one knows why. Maybe it was a joke or people were just trying something out. We'll probably never know."

A few days after I sat with Mr Kaspersky in his Moscow-based company's new UK office in London – an angular, glass affair – there was a news story about how UK airports and ports were suffering huge delays due to an IT collapse at customs. Once, I'd have glazed over on the story, but now my mind raced: Gangsters? Terrorists? Mr Kaspersky had got into my brain like that Stuxnet worm.

And that's his job, pretty much. Scaring the bejayzus out of the media, chief executives and governments around the world, persuading them of the need to buy his super-secure IT to protect the critical stuff of society that we just can't do without.

He looks slightly wounded when I put it like that. Before finding that infectious chuckle again: "Believe me," he says. "When I go around the world talking to governments I don't need to scare them. They already ARE scared. Heessh, heessh, heeesh."

Some will tell you that Mr Kaspersky, whose antivirus software is now installed in hundreds of millions of PCs around the world, is himself a potential threat – he's close to Vladimir Putin, he was trained by the KGB, he works for the Russian military, they say. The truth is more mundane, he says. When he was growing up in Soviet Russia, mathematically minded kids were sent to the higher school of the KGB, which was backed by the Ministry of Defence. There was no choice. It was predetermined for him that he'd work in Russian defence on graduation.

While that job involved computer programming, his love of virus-busting came when his own PC was infected with one. He spent an age working out what the alien thing was, how it had got in, and, most importantly, how to stop another. It was at the time Mikhail Gorbachev was beginning to allow in private enterprise: for Mr Kaspersky, a business was born.

He still lives in Moscow with his family (his four kids range in age from seven months to 26 years), but travel means he's only there five months a year. "My mind is international, my backbone is patriotic," he says. It must be for him to stay in Russia – one of his older children was kidnapped and ransomed a few years back, thankfully rescued without bloodshed. So, is he a little too patriotic, perhaps – too close to the Kremlin? Nonsense, comes back the Russian accent.

"The Russian government is our customer, many governments are around the world. We help police investigate cyber crime, the FBI, Latin America, London police – every nation in Europe.

"Putin? I saw him once! And I am not in touch with any Russian officials which are close to Putin. I am a little boy with a successful IT company."

Like most high-profile Russian businessmen, he's not big on talking Putin politics to journalists. Especially Ukrainian Putin politics. After repeated probing, all he gives up is that he's "not a political guy" and the situation in Ukraine is "complicated".

So, he's talked about the mafia's move into cybercrime, but what's the next big threat? Easy, he answers. Mobile technology. The shift to mobile has been happening for years, with new mobile banking, e-payments and e-wallets being launched daily. The trouble is, says Mr Kaspersky, while famous viruses over the past 20 years, from Chernobyl to ILoveYou, have made us aware of the risk to our PCs, we're not used to thinking about security on our mobile devices. Yet attacks are happening every day.

"When I say 'mobile' I'm also talking here about smart TVs," he says. "These are connected to the internet. They have operating systems and they have cameras. So you are watching TV, and TV is watching you!" he giggles.

The second big story will be attacks on our infrastructure. Asked if he means hospitals, transport, nuclear plants, he shrugs: "The one thing I am sure is when it happens, it will be a surprise, like Stuxnet. When – who knows? Which nation - who knows? Which industry? No idea."

Little surprise, then, that Kaspersky Lab is doing rather well. The recession is still having a drag on sales across the industry, but he says his business pushed through a respectable 7 per cent growth to $700m (£415m) last year. "But we can do better," he says. "This year I dream about double-digit growth."

Around five years ago he planned to float Kaspersky Lab in London but got cold feet. It disappointed some staff and backers – his ex-wife, for one, sold her shares.

A few days after our interview, it emerged that no fewer than five senior executives had left the firm in recent weeks. Disputes over strategy were cited. Were those who left still cross about pulling the float? Mr Kaspersky is keeping schtum, beyond the corporate press release thanking the exiles for their services and admitting differences of opinion.

I suspect you'd have more luck getting him to say what he really thinks about Ukraine. But then, for a man in his line of work, a bit of mystery's no bad thing.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959


Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part

...and the perfect time to visit them

Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week