On December 1st, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) made a new statement warning UK ministries to be cautious when downloading and using foreign-supplied antivirus software, especially those originating in Russia.
This report comes courtesy of The Verge, which explains the reasoning for the NCSC’s warning. NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin said in his letter to the heads of each government ministry that any program received from a “hostile actor” could potentially be at risk of extracting data from government computers or damaging the computer network itself, explicitly naming Russia as a culprit further in.
Martin goes on to warn that, should a government office or official be dealing with information that could prove a threat to national security (“SECRET and above”), Russian-made antivirus programs should simply not be used at all. He also mentions how the NCSC is currently in talks with Russian antivirus company Kaspersky Labs to develop an independently verifiable way to confirm that no information is being transmitted from the United Kingdom to the Russian government while using their program.
Ian Levy, the NCSC technical director, added in a blog post that, while not the largest threat to national security, foreign actors do still pose a risk to UK security by way of cyber attacks. He does mention, though, that few official systems currently run Kaspersky programs and that “we see no compelling case at present to extend [that number].”
These new guidelines come as a direct response to a statement made in May by six United States intelligence groups to the Senate Intelligence Committee claiming that they did not feel comfortable using Russian antivirus software on their computers. This statement itself was a result of reports last October on how Russian spies managed to hack into and steal data from the NSA using this software.