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.

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
News
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
News
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
people
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
voices
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

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

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?