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US slaps sanctions on leaders of Russia software firm Kaspersky

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The United States unveiled sanctions Friday against 12 top leaders of the Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, a day after banning the sale of its popular antivirus software on national security grounds.

The widespread sanctions target many of Kaspersky Lab’s most senior leaders, including its chief operating officer, while sparing the chief executive and the company itself, the Treasury Department said in a statement announcing the designation.

“Today’s action against the leadership of Kaspersky Lab underscores our commitment to ensure the integrity of our cyber domain and to protect our citizens against malicious cyber threats,” said the US Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian Nelson.

“The United States will take action where necessary to hold accountable those who would seek to facilitate or otherwise enable these activities,” he added.

The Treasury sanctions come a day after the Commerce Department said it was banning the Moscow-headquartered cybersecurity firm from providing its popular antivirus products in the United States.

That announcement came after a lengthy investigation which, the Commerce Department said, found that Kaspersky’s “continued operations in the United States presented a national security risk due to the Russian government’s offensive cyber capabilities and capacity to influence or direct Kaspersky’s operations.”

The move is the first such action taken since an executive order issued during Donald Trump’s presidency gave the Commerce Department the power to investigate whether certain companies pose a national security risk.

Kaspersky, in a statement to AFP, said the Treasury’s sanctions were “unjustified and baseless,” adding that they were based on geopolitical concerns rather than a “comprehensive evaluation” of the integrity of its products and operations.

“Neither Kaspersky nor its management team has any ties to any government,” it continued, calling the Treasury’s allegations “pure speculation, which lacks concrete evidence of a threat posed to US national security.”

Moscow hit out at the decision to ban the sale of Kaspersky’s antivirus software.

“Kaspersky Lab is a company which is very, very competitive on the international level,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.

“This is a favorite method of unfair competition from the part of the United States. They resort to such tactics every time.”

‘Unacceptable’ risk

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Friday that the company was subject to the “jurisdiction, control, or direction of the Russian government, which could exploit the privileged access to obtain sensitive data.”

This poses “an unacceptable risk to US national security or the safety and security of US persons,” he added in a statement.

While Kaspersky is headquartered in Moscow, it has offices in 31 countries around the world, serving more than 400 million users and 270,000 corporate clients in more than 200 countries, according to the Commerce Department.

The latest sanctions target many senior leaders at Kaspersky, including long-serving chief operating officer Andrei Tikhonov and chief legal officer Igor Chekunov, the Treasury Department said.

Other individuals sanctioned include the firm’s deputy CEO Daniil Borshchev, chief business development officer and board member Andrei Efremov, and its head of corporate communications, Denis Zenkin.

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