Italy set to curb use of Russian anti-virus software in public sector

ROME, March 17 (Reuters) - Italy's government is poised to curb the use of Russian anti-virus software in the public sector in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, fearing Moscow could hijack the programs to hack key websites, officials said.

Franco Gabrielli, the state undersecretary for security, told the Senate on Tuesday that the government was working on rules to allow state bodies to pull the plug on software developed by the Russia-based Kaspersky Lab.

A government source told Reuters that the new rules would let public administrations replace all software deemed potentially dangerous, without facing penalties.

A second source said the regulation could be approved as early as this week.

Kaspersky's office in Italy said it was monitoring the situation with "great concern" and was especially worried about its employees, warning that they risked suffering from decisions that were based on geopolitics rather than technical issues.

"We hope that this attitude will not lead to the implementation of illiberal legislation that would primarily affect our Italian partners, families and citizens," Kaspersky said in an email to Reuters.

Kaspersky added that it was a privately-managed company with no ties to the Russian government.

In a recommendation issued on Tuesday, Italy's state cybersecurity agency said there was no evidence products provided by companies linked to Russia had been compromised since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

However, it warned that risks needed to be reassessed amid the growing conflict and that anti-virus software was particularly sensitive due to the "high level of invasiveness" of the systems they serve.

Earlier this week, Germany's cyber security agency warned users of the Kaspersky software that it posed a serious risk of a successful hacking attack. read more

In a sign that Italy's business world was also sensitive about its ties with Kaspersky, Formula One team Ferrari said on Thursday its sponsorship deal with the firm had been suspended by mutual agreement. A Ferrari spokesperson also said the company was assessing its use of Kaspersky antivirus software. read more

Additional reporting by Elvira Pollina and Giulio Piovaccari; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Andrew Heavens

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