Kaspersky security shakes up U.S. leadership amid geopolitical concerns

(Reuters) - Top Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab has recently lost the leader of its North American operations and the head of a Washington-area office as it struggles to win U.S. government contracts amid rising geopolitical mistrust.

An employee works near screens in the virus lab at the headquarters of Russian cyber security company Kaspersky Labs in Moscow July 29, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Company Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky confirmed the changes in an interview with Reuters during a visit to China.

Kaspersky said the two personnel moves were not linked, and that North America head Christopher Doggett had gone to a competitor while Kaspersky “decided to change leadership in DC,” where the two-year-old office pursues work protecting government agencies and critical infrastucture.

Doggett and former Washington-area head Adam Firestone declined to comment.

The shakeup comes at a time when Kaspersky says it is hard for non-American security companies to win bids for federal jobs and big U.S. corporate contracts.

“The North American top enterprise and government sector, they are not really loyal to any non-American products – it’s much harder to get to this sector for any non-American company, maybe except British companies,” Kaspersky said.

“We’ve never had success in this sector in the United States. We are slowly trying to open the door. It’s hard but I think it’s possible.”

A high-ranking U.S. technology official and former intelligence official, who asked not to be named, said Kaspersky government efforts, while always problematic, have faced higher hurdles in the past year due to tensions with Russia and concerns about the company specifically.

The changes follow the increasing politicization of the technology security sector. For a variety of reasons, prominent security companies are more likely to blow the whistle on spying or sabotage attacks originating in other countries and more likely to win contracts with their own home governments.

Kaspersky has been the foremost researcher uncovering Western government spyware for the past several years. Earlier this year, it said it had itself been attacked by one of the most sophisticated strains uncovered to date, with an intrusion it hinted came from U.S. ally Israel.

Kaspersky has also come under U.S. scrutiny for other reasons.

Reuters reported in August that internal emails supported claims by former employees that Kaspersky distributed malware samples that were designed to trigger false positives by rival companies, prompting them to isolate legitimate software on users’ computers. Kaspersky denied the claims.

Those stories drew attention in the White House and intelligence agencies and decreased Kaspersky’s chances of getting significant government contracts, officials recently told Reuters. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said those decisions were left to the various agencies.

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco, Paul Carsten in Beijing and Jim Finkle in Boston; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Andrew Hay