Kaspersky Lab, Russia’s largest cybersecurity firm, confirmed on 25 January that Ruslan Stoyanov, head of its computer incidents investigation unit, was arrested in December on charges of treason.
Stoyanov was arrested at the same time as a senior Russian FSB intelligence officer. According to a Kaspersky spokesman, the investigation relates to Stoyanov’s career prior to joining the company. One of his previous jobs was in the Cyber Crime Unit at the Russian Interior Ministry.
The news is interesting from two perspectives. First, it has given rise to intense speculation that the arrest is somehow linked to the high-profile bickering between Russia and the US over the former’s alleged interference in the latter’s most recent presidential election. There is no evidence that this is the case – although that does not reduce the intensity (nor the insanity) of some of the more far-fetched conspiracy theories. There has been some concern expressed that Russia might replicate its alleged interference when it comes to elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands this year. It would be nice to think this investigation might indeed be a move towards trying to debunk that concern, but given Putin’s ‘strong man’ brinksmanship approach to current geopolitical affairs, it is doubtful whether there is any such official intent.
Second, the arrest marks a potential watershed in relations between the authorities and companies such as Kaspersky that inhabit the fringes of the murky world of intelligence and security. Time was when the FSB and similar organs of government would treat Kaspersky with kid gloves, depending on them for advice and support as they struggled to come to grips with the challenges presented by cyber proliferation. That would appear no longer to be the case. In the words of one Russian observer, “The romance is clearly over.”