Any business, including ones owned by Donald Trump, can find themselves on the wrong side of politics and public opinion. It happened with Facebook and ads placed by parties reportedly tied to Russia. As of Wednesday, cybersecurity software company Kaspersky Labs finds itself behind the Russian eight ball.
The Department of Homeland Security announced that all federal agencies had 90 days to "remove and discontinue present and future use" of Kaspersky products. The reason: claimed connections to Russia.
This action is based on the information security risks presented by the use of Kaspersky products on federal information systems. Kaspersky anti-virus products and solutions provide broad access to files and elevated privileges on the computers on which the software is installed, which can be exploited by malicious cyber actors to compromise those information systems. The Department is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks. The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security.
Kaspersky quickly posted an answer:
Given that Kaspersky Lab doesn't have inappropriate ties with any government, the company is disappointed with the decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but also is grateful for the opportunity to provide additional information to the agency in order to confirm that these allegations are completely unfounded. No credible evidence has been presented publicly by anyone or any organization as the accusations are based on false allegations and inaccurate assumptions, including claims about the impact of Russian regulations and policies on the company. Kaspersky Lab has always acknowledged that it provides appropriate products and services to governments around the world to protect those organizations from cyberthreats, but it does not have unethical ties or affiliations with any government, including Russia.
Kaspersky also said it had never helped any government with cyberespionage and that the laws DHS referred to "are applicable to telecom companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and contrary to the inaccurate reports, Kaspersky Lab is not subject to these laws or other government tools."
You might believe DHS. You might believe Kaspersky. It could be that a long-respected company is doing something wrong. Or it might be that some in the government are making unreasonable assumptions. In a way, the choice is immaterial.
The question of Russian intent toward the U.S. is becoming less of a rational issue than a wave of hysteria that is developing, even though many will insist that their reactions are completely reasonable. In the context of American history, what is happening now looks similar to other times politically-charged emotional fervor took over. During World War II, the U.S. ran internment camps to imprison people of Japanese, German, and Italian ancestry. During the 1950s, many companies came under the anti-Communist mania found themselves pressured into blacklisting workers and otherwise acting to prove their political purity.
We could well be reentering such a period and, if that happens as it has before, some companies may be able to stay on the sidelines. For others, that may become impossible. It will be necessary for entrepreneurs to think deeply about the principles they hold important and what is most important, whether commercial success or principles.