Home Government Tech Policy Kaspersky source code offer means little: security firm

Kaspersky source code offer means little: security firm

Kaspersky Lab founder Eugene Kaspersky's offer to allow the US government to inspect the source code of his products will not ensure it is free of malicious functions, according to an analysis posted by Rendition Infosec, a security company founded and run by ex-NSA employee Jake Williams.

The company said it was supportive of Eugene's offer but said it would not ensure security and his offer to testify before the US Congress would not sway anyone.

The US government has been ratcheting up its campaign against Kaspersky Lab products with a recommendation in the Pentagon draft budget that a ban be imposed on the use of these products by the Department of Defence.

Moscow has threatened to hit back if the US implements such a ban. Eugene has termed the US' actions as "cyber-McCarthyism".

The Rendition Infosec analysis pointed out that a code audit would take place at a certain point in time and there could be additions before a binary was compiled.

"No matter what we see in the source, Kaspersky will have to add code over time to update features. That’s how software engineering works," it said.

"Suppose they then offer to send updated source code for audit. That’s great, but who is really auditing it? This becomes a full-time job. Also, backdoors in code are particularly difficult to detect and can be extremely carefully obfuscated to make them resistant to static code analysis."

Rendition's analysis said there were further problems with a code audit: "The compiled code may contain backdoors not in the originally compiled source. These are non-trivial to detect and require a whole different set of specialised skills to find (the person performing the analysis must understand programming and reverse engineering)."

It pointed that reverse engineering was an order of magnitude harder than code auditing, but if doubts existed about a foreign government influencing the software, this was a must.

The analysis said that a final point to be considered was the fact that an anti-virus program was more or less a kernel mode rootkit with the ability to update itself remotely.

"The remote update functionality is important. With remote update functionality, even if someone audits the code the best possible outcome would be 'no backdoors were found, but Kaspersky could install malware on or completely disable any machine it is running on at will',” it said.

"While any software that implements auto-update functionality could conceivably install a malicious update (as we saw with MeDoc being used to deploy the NotPetya cyber attack against Ukraine). Reverse engineering would now need to be performed not once, but on a regular basis to identify the inclusion of new backdoors built into updates."

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.