Russian cyber firm Kaspersky Lab says its consumer anti-virus software snagged a secret American hacking tool in 2014 but then deleted it. The admission follows US blacklisting and claims that it aided Russian spying.
Moscow-based Kaspersky said its popular software running on a US home computer that was infected with a pirated copy of Microsoft Office found and downloaded the software tool.
Packed inside a zip file, it turned out to be the hacking product of the Equation Group, exposed subsequently in 2015 as an arm of the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Wednesday's accounts follow speculation that Russian hackers spied electronically on the US, including attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election – a claim being investigated by US special counsel Robert Mueller.
Founder Eugene Kaspersky told Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday that when told by his analysts in 2014 about the electronic find he immediately ordered its deletion.
No third party got the tool, Kaspersky Lab said in a statement, countering claims that the hacking tool had ended up in Russian government hands and hinting at carelessness rather that intended spying.
Its depiction partially matched previous reports published by The New York Times (NYT), The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal that the NSA's elite unit had lost control when one of its members brought the hacking tool home.
On October 10, the NYT reported that Israeli officials had disclosed the breach to the United States after they hacked into Kaspersky's network.
Popular software blacklisted
Wednesday's acknowledgement by the Moscow-based firm followed the US government's blacklisting of Kaspersky software on federal computer networks.
Former NSA analyst said Kaspersky's deletion narrative in part made sense.
Kaspersky would not have wanted such a "toxic" tool in its system. If true that an Equation employee had "walked highly classified software out the building," then it would amount to a "worse PR nightmare for the NSA."
Open for inspection
On Monday, Kaspersky Lab said it would in future submit its anti-virus source code and future updates for inspection by independent parties.
Reviews of its software, which is used on some 400 million computers worldwide, will begin by the first quarter of next year, it said.
"We've nothing to hide," CEO Kaspersky said on Monday.
"With these actions we'll be able to overcome mistrust and support our commitment to protecting people in any country on our planet."
ipj/kms (AP, Reuters, dpa)