Russia's Kaspersky Lab launches free antivirus software globally

Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab is founded by Mr Eugene Kaspersky, seen here in a 2015 file photograph.
Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab is founded by Mr Eugene Kaspersky, seen here in a 2015 file photograph.PHOTO: REUTERS

LAS VEGAS (REUTERS) - Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab announced on July 25 that it is rolling out a free version of its antivirus software across the globe, a product launch that comes amid mounting suspicion in the United States that the cyber firm is vulnerable to Russian government influence.

Kaspersky Free was immediately available in the US, Canada and several Asia-Pacific countries. It would launch in other regions in the coming months, Mr Eugene Kaspersky, the company founder, wrote in a blog post.

Mr Kaspersky said the free version was not intended to replace the paid versions of its antivirus software, describing it as offering "the bare essentials", such as e-mail and Web antivirus protection and automatic updates.

But the free software would benefit all of Kaspersky Lab's customers by improving machine learning across its products, he said.

The company has been working on Kaspersky Free for 18 months, a development phase that included pilot versions in several markets including Russia, Ukraine, China and Scandinavian countries.

Founded in 1997, Kaspersky Lab grew rapidly through the 2000s to become one of the world's leading antivirus software companies. But the company has faced suspicion for years about its ties to Russia's Federal Security Service or FSB.

Concerns about the company have metastasised in the US in recent years due to the deterioration in US-Russia relations following Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014 and later when US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had hacked the 2016 US presidential election.

Moscow denies the hacking allegations and Kaspersky has repeatedly denied it has any untoward relationship with any government, saying the accusations against it lack evidence.

In June, FBI agents visited the homes of Kaspersky employees as part of a counter-intelligence probe and United States President Donald Trump's administration took steps to remove the company from a list of approved vendors who sell technology products to federal government agencies.

There is also a bill in Congress that would explicitly prohibit the Department of Defence from using Kaspersky products.

Privately held Kaspersky said its US revenue, most of which comes from selling antivirus software to consumers and small businesses, slipped from US$164 million in 2014 to about US$156 million (S$213 million) in 2016.