DUBLIN — Kaspersky, the Russian cybersecurity company accused of helping the Kremlin spy on the U.S. intelligence agencies as part of its 2016 election meddling, has launched a new product aimed at helping secure online voting and make elections more transparent and open.
Polys, an online voting platform built using the same blockchain technology that underpins bitcoin, allows anyone to conduct “secure, anonymous, and scalable online voting with results that cannot be altered by participants or organizers,” the company said.
Kaspersky is already speaking to a number of “politicians and political organizations in Europe” about using the system, and it says that countries in western Europe, Scandinavia and Asia are technologically and mentally ready to make the change to online voting.
But one place Kaspersky will not be hawking Polys is Washington.
“I am a realist and I just don’t want to put salt in the open wound,” Anton Shingarev, director of government relations at Kaspersky Lab, told VICE News. “We are not going to push it in the U.S.”
Multiple U.S. intelligence sources claimed in the last month that Kaspersky uploaded sensitive NSA files — including source code for hacking tools — to its Moscow servers before sharing the documents with the Kremlin.
The Trump administration has since barred government agencies from using Kaspersky’s antivirus products — though without explicitly saying what the company had done wrong.
“I cannot even explain how disappointed and frustrated and worried I am,” Shingarev said, adding: “The problem is that we need to develop together because we are right now stuck in the dark, we don’t know where to move. If we were given any hint or suggestion, fine.”
Last month the company explained how sensitive intelligence files found their way onto its Moscow servers, claiming an NSA employee who used the company’s antivirus products, had downloaded malware when trying to install a pirated copy of Microsoft Word.
Lawmakers in the U.S. have made much of the ties between Eugene Kaspersky, the company’s founder, and Russian intelligence agencies. Kaspersky is a graduate of the KGB’s elite cryptology institute, and was a software engineer for Soviet military intelligence.
However, Shingarev strongly denied his company has any illegal links to Russian intelligence agencies, noting Kaspersky has nothing to hide and is simply collateral damage in the wider political fight taking place between Washington and Moscow.
“I am 100 percent sure it is political games and we are in the middle of this huge, huge storm,” he said. “There is obviously a big crisis in U.S. politics. There is a conflict between the administration, the Senate and the intelligence community. All of them are fighting each other, beating, screaming. It is like a political civil war.”
Despite this, the company is still trying to build bridges in Washington but the process is “extremely complicated,” the executive said.
In an effort to distance the Polys platform from the Kaspersky brand, the project has been spun out as a standalone initiative — though it is still housed inside the company’s Moscow headquarters.
Online voting has long been seen as a natural use of blockchain technology, which is almost impossible to hack given the distributed nature of the network on which it runs.
However, in the last year, amid mounting evidence that Russia interfered in the U.S. elections, there has been a growing call to move away from electronic voting and back to paper ballots.
Shingarev understands that changing people’s attitude towards e-voting is going to take time, and initial projects will likely focus on smaller elections such as the one it has already conducted at the Higher School of Economics, one of Russia’s biggest universities, where Polys was used to elect a new ombudsman. Next, Shingarev says, it could be used for mayoral or municipal elections, but he’s not expecting the change to happen quickly.
“It’s not about having presidential elections in the U.S. next year on Polys, it is a long-term project, it is a long process. People need to change, people need to adapt. People need to see how it works in other countries.”
Next year Russia will host its own presidential election, and while President Vladimir Putin has recently embraced blockchain technology wholeheartedly, it is unlikely he will allow the vote to be conducted using Polys, given that the very idea of someone mounting a credible challenge is seen as pointless.
But Shingarev says Kaspersky is not looking for the support of Putin — or indeed any politician.
“We don’t want to be supported [by the Kremlin], it is about being independent of politicians. The only way to be successful is to stay far from politicians,” he said.