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Yevgeny Kaspersky: My quest is to save the world

Kaspersky founder and CEO in a TASS special project on Top Business Officials
Andrey Vandenko 
Andrey Vandenko

Andrey Vandenko was born on November 8, 1959 in Lugansk, Ukrainian SSR. In 1982, he graduated from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev with a degree in journalism. Since 1989, he has been living and working in Moscow. For over 20 years, he has built his career as a journalist specializing in interviews. His work is published predominantly in Russia’s leading mass media outlets, and he is the recipient of numerous professional awards.

Part 1
On a vaccine against COVID-19, Zoom, sprawling malware and conspiracy theories

Have you come up with your own vaccine against COVID-19 yet, Yevgeny?

I once had a dream that a man wrote a computer program that would cure him. I did truly have such a dream. In reality, there is still no such program to go around. I don’t have it and nobody else does.

What a shame. That would’ve been breaking news, and very relevant.

I agree. For the time being, we keep struggling with this novel coronavirus. I felt amazed at how promptly, accurately and firmly China reacted to the coronavirus. Sealing off multi-million megapolises was a fundamental step that required a great sense of responsibility. Europe and the United States balked and lost time. China preferred not to beat around the bush.

You took a trip to Hong Kong and back when the epidemic was already in full swing, right?

Not quite so. I’d been there in December. In January, I was touring Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Madagascar. It’s been my long-cherished dream to see Namibia’s sand dunes and the Victoria Falls during the low water [season]. I’d seen the place during the high-water season before. And in Madagascar, I was most interested in the lemurs and other beautiful wildlife.

I have a whole list of places, where I would like to go to see everything with my own eyes.

It’s widely known that you are an inquisitive individual. What about risk?

I’ve always thought that I take only well-thought-out steps. Nevertheless, I broke my leg once, because I was very careless, I must admit.

Where was it?

It was in Kamchatka. In fact, I made three mistakes right there. We set out on what was originally planned as a long walk, but it eventually turned into a mountain hike, contrary to the original intention. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a situation when the road back was already too far, yet moving ahead was too difficult. We had experienced local guides. I wanted to go where ordinary tourists usually don’t go. The most beautiful places! Volcanic cracks and cliffs of many colors – from white and black to red…

Kaspersky tourist group in Kamchatka, 2018 Kaspersky Press Service
Kaspersky tourist group in Kamchatka, 2018
© Kaspersky Press Service

To make the long story short, I talked the guides into changing the route. It was also yours truly who ignored the safety precautions. Although I always tell everybody else that when venturing onto a snow patch you’ve got to have the proper gear. Two sticks in your hands and the right clothes and footwear… We pushed ahead by pacing into the ice and started walking one after another. There was one person behind me, I put one foot forward and sank under my weight. I’m a hefty guy, as you can see. The snow must’ve melted a bit. I slipped, lost my balance and … down I went.

Some 400 meters downhill. We had no ice axes, because we’d planned to take an ordinary stroll at first. And we had no safety ropes either for the same reason.

That’s what I call taking unreasonable risks. There are other ways of triggering the release of adrenaline. Three years ago, I coined a phrase: “Whoever has survived the Akkem Gap never laughs in aquaparks.”

What kind of gap is this?

The one on the Katun River. It is quite a remarkable place. Once you’ve approached the rapids, there is no way of turning back. And it’s too late to feel scared. You can only speed downstream. I’ll show you some photos. The mighty current looks awesome to an outsider, although the river is absolutely safe. In a word, you have a fundamental shakeup…

I spend much time flying. I think I spend up to 400 hours on a plane a year. In 2020, my routine schedule was disrupted, though. So when it rains, it pours…

Sometime ago I stopped flying economy class. Before, I used the five-hour rule: I bought business class tickets, if the flight was longer than five hours, and economy class, if it was less than five. I decided to drop the habit the moment somebody recognized me while I was waiting for my turn near the toilet cabin. I said to myself: “Enough is enough. From this moment on, [I’m flying] business class only.” And I use the business jet only if there isn’t a convenient regular flight available.

I’d waited for a long time for the moment when a plane would enter into negative g-force turbulence. In other words, the moment you’ve been just served your breakfast only to find it stuck to the ceiling a second later. This year, I finally had such an experience.

Did it live up to your expectations?

We were on our business jet flying to Namibia. The pilot saw clouds ahead and warned us we were approaching an area of turbulence. The flight attendant had just enough time to take away our snacks. As for the drinks, in a few seconds they were dripping on us from above… Everybody had fastened their seatbelts on time, except one guy. So he had to grab the belt with both hands when the plane plummeted. Then we sharply swung to the left and continued to plunge. Beeping sounds started coming from everywhere, I guess the alarm system was triggered. It went on like this for several more seconds. Then the plane straightened out. More shocks, though less powerful, followed. We had a good laugh, of course, although I must confess that the whole thing felt very … Very sensational, I should say.

After the landing in Windhoek, all of us stayed up well into the night …

But such things happen to me very rarely. Sometimes there are some business projects with uncertain prospects that keep me up at night. A decision needs to be developed. Acting on impulse is wrong.

But careful calculations cannot serve as insurance against mistakes. You must’ve certainly lost money at times.

I have. But those were not very big losses, though.

Everything is relative in this world.

Some projects I had to shut down that cost tens of millions dollars.

So this is not much in your scheme of things?

Not catastrophic. Let’s put it that way. If several years have been spent on a certain project that does not pay back it has to be shut down. There’s no other way.

Has the rampant pandemic forced you to curtail some plans or revise others?

Globally? No. We started drifting towards remote work in early March. Everyone faced a great challenge, particularly the IT people, along with the HR department and the administrative and logistics offices. In the end, everything went well without any harm to efficiency. We have a staff of about 4,000. Almost all of them had been bracing for the change. We distributed an extra 120 laptops. When we asked what else they might need to comfortably work from home, many replied their office armchair. Naturally, we let our guys have them. That was the biggest problem of all.

In all other respects, the Lab pushed ahead with its business as usual. And our offices, say, in Singapore or Japan, maintained normal operations throughout the spring. No quarantine was introduced there.

Has teleworking required any extra corporate security measures?

As you may have guessed, security is one of our strong points. A long time ago we set forth a certain standard. All connections to the corporate network should be via VPN, and then at least a two factor authentication (2FA) for all users. In fact, we’ve arranged it in a way that everybody on our staff works from home, but technically they are inside the virtual perimeter fence.

In addition, a standard protection system consisting of our own products guards the entrance to our corporate network.

And why don’t you use such trendy apps as Zoom for video calls and video conferencing?

We have Microsoft Teams for this purpose. It’s very convenient and extremely handy. As for Zoom, we had significant security objections from the outset. First, we did some research to find out that it’s true that the guys who authored it managed to deliver a good, convenient piece of software, but just a couple of weeks ago it was still possible to get access to meetings that have no password protection just by toying with different combinations of digits. There was no password protection by default… It looks like those who created it, did not care about protecting communication from outsiders at all. Now they’ve begun to correct the mistakes, but some questions remain. Zoom may be quite good for discussing some simple matters, but not for business contacts or discussing confidential subjects.

There is the Teams or, say, WhatsApp for such purposes.

Is this messenger better protected, too?

Better than Zoom? Why, naturally. A hundred percent!

Has the coronavirus added to your work load?

It hasn’t eased it for sure. The demand for cyber protection is still there. There are some businesses the pandemic has not harmed at all. For example, the pressure on Internet communication companies has peaked. What’s more, we haven’t laid people off, on the contrary, we are recruiting newcomers, so this speaks for itself. I must point out though, that the flow of job applications has mysteriously slumped in recent months, approximately by two-thirds. Everyone’s keeping their heads down, preferring to lay very low and not take any chances. That’s a bad choice. This is the right time to look for a good, high-salaried job.

What kind of people are you looking for?

Mostly developers for our R&D branch, not even programmers or analysts, but mathematicians for creating complex algorithms capable of exposing malicious codes.

What is cybercrime’s response to your efforts?

The pandemic has not harmed it whatsoever. I mean, it has not forced it to take a break in any respect. Like before, hackers mostly stay at home. Their activity is a remote mode of operation.

What is happening now? The lockdowns and quarantines that many countries have introduced amid the pandemic have forced cybercriminals to hunt for prey with greater frenzy, to work harder, so to say, if this word is applicable to crime at all. Every day we fish out several million files on the suspicion they may have malicious functions. Also, every day we identify more than 300,000 – read my lips – 300,000 malicious samples we’ve never come across.

How do you like that?

Sounds impressive.

Data centers carry out analysis and automatically process a tremendous amount primary information. First, we see that the number of new malicious files on the Internet has grown approximately by 10%. Second, the Laboratory gathers statistics whenever our product is triggered to respond to various strange situations. What I’m saying is this: during visits to webpages this rate has grown by a quarter globally.

Does your anti-virus product respond by sending an alarm signal?

Of course, the security system springs into action. Two factors should be kept in mind. Soaring criminal activity is one. And, of course, the current situation, where people have to stay at home. They spend more time surfing the net and sometimes venture into no-go areas.

That accounts for 25% of the increase. The average body temperature per hospital. Situations vary from country to country. In South Africa, network attacks are ten times more frequent than elsewhere. Cybercrime is on the offensive. All of us are far more dependent on Internet services than before.

Mind you, the number of cyberattacks is multiplied by the number of cases each malware is used. I’ve told you about the 300,000 newly-discovered malicious files, and each of them can be used hundreds of times.

Is it another pandemic? A cyber pandemic?

I believe this is a temporary phenomenon. Someday, it will be all over and the world will go back to normal, even the cyber world.

So you think that what we see around us today is not going to last forever?

This is not the first epidemic that has befallen the human race, and not the most terrible one. It is hard to compare the current situation to the Spanish flu that followed World War I. That said, COVID-19 and the Hong Kong flu look very much alike.

Incidentally, it is quite amazing that we have some new pestilence to fight against once in 50 years. Seasonal flus and ARIs (acute respiratory infections) come and go, but each 50 years something exceptionally nasty arises. Like this revolting little beast that attacked us this time…

A quick reminder, the Hong Kong flu that raged in 1968-1969 infected several million people in various countries and killed tens of thousands. Did it change the world? Not a bit. People sneezed and coughed for some time, and then said: “Oh, what was it?” And moved on.

I believe that the very same thing will happen this time. True, a global economic crisis is unavoidable, but it loomed on the horizon long enough. Now everything will be blamed on the coronavirus.

Do you believe in conspiracy theories?

I might come up with endless Kasperalogy theories of my own, if I did. Spelled precisely this way.

I don’t believe in such nonsense, which has nothing to do with reality.

The pandemic has shattered many plans, though. That’s true. I’ve spent six weeks sitting quietly in one place without trying to go out. Possibly, this is the first time in 20 years that I’ve found myself in a situation like this.

I had been making plans for a trip around the globe in March. I’ve had nine long business trips in my life already that took me around the world. Each time, I travelled full circle. I’d been looking forward to my tenth such tour, a jubilee, but had to postpone it in the end.

All this is nonsense, though. One of the most unpleasant decisions to make was cancelling the Security Analyst Summit conference, which we convene once a year, with several hundred specialists from around the world attending. Previously, the conference was held in very different places ranging from Cancun to Singapore. This time, it was going to be held in Barcelona. Eventually, we went online and broadcasted it via the Internet. There were some remarkable reports and many viewers. Everything looked very fresh and up-to-date, but I am well aware that there is no substitute for personal, face-to-face meetings. It remains one of the most productive ways of sharing information.

All conferences, exhibitions and meetings will be back, when the restrictions are gone. They will be arranged in the usual, intramural way.

On the other hand, we’ve mastered the online technique, so it would be very wrong to waste this new experience that we’ve gained. I suspect that when the lockdown ends, the work pressure will double.

Here’s just one example. I’ve just mentioned the security conference that we had to hold on the Internet. We gave it a second thought to make a decision that from now on we’ll be holding such high-level meetings not once a year, but every six months – both in real life and online. Both options are good!

The world will get back to normal, it’s inevitable. But the skill of working the new way will remain.

What about the minuses? All these QR codes, electronic passes for going to the store next door… The authorities may enjoy this total control of the citizenry, and this is a direct threat to the security and privacy of each and every one of us.

I keep asking myself the same question, and for now I have no answer.

How can we protect ourselves? Refrain from using the service, avoid getting the pass, and stay at home without going outdoors…

Clearly, this is not the solution. Hopefully, the need for total monitoring will disappear once the coronavirus situation dies down and things get back to normal.

Incidentally, some countries preferred to act differently from the outset. Singapore took a far milder line. Special applications were downloaded to all smartphones, but there is no mandatory collection of information by the authorities. Each individual is free to decide depending on the situation and circumstances.

There is another important aspect. The fact that the authorities may like total control is not the only risk involved. Many private companies are involved in these systems of monitoring the population. They may wish to monetize the information they get their hands on and that’s a real threat.

This question lies on the surface, but indeed it is a multi-faceted one.

Have you obtained an electronic pass, Yevgeny?

Of course. For trips to work and back home, if necessary. I keep a sheet of paper with my QR code in my passport.

I’m like everybody else. Perhaps, I’ve been a little bit fortunate than many others in terms of tapping my potential in life.

Can you be called a virologist?

I believe that would be an exaggeration. After all, I have only computer malware to deal with. They are far less complex creatures than those Mother Nature spawns. True, in some cases, you have to work really hard to produce an anti-virus, but software viruses are much simpler.

Besides, I hate the term artificial intelligence.


A mosquito’s brain is more complex than any man-made innovation.

Isn’t that an exaggeration?

Absolutely not. What do people call artificial intelligence today? Self-teaching programs and algorithms meant for doing a certain job. For instance, take facial recognition, no matter how complex or smart it is, it will remain a computer program.

A human brain has motivation and makes random choices. Nothing of the sort can be found here for the time being.

You made a very important point: for the time being.

Naturally, in due course people will create artificial intelligence, but I do not think this will happen soon. AI is not our problem, nor will it be a problem of our children or grandchildren. If you tried to put together an equivalent of the human brain using modern hardware, you would get a product larger than planet Earth.

In a word, artificial intelligence – yes, in a sense, but nevertheless not for now. It will emerge, but not now.

And yet, do you see this as a global threat to human beings? Total robotization, machines rising in revolt, and other science fiction horrors…

It’s like any other product of science and engineering: it combines challenges and opportunities at the same time. Say, a photo camera can be used to take pictures of beautiful and ugly things.

Once I read an interesting story. The title escapes me at the moment. Some scientists created artificial intelligence and for testing and they issued an instruction to compute the mathematical constant of Pi. The first thing the artificial intelligence did was devour all life, then the Solar System and went on consuming ever more resources, including our Galaxy just for the sake of producing the most accurate result possible.

Robotization has no alternative. The biological evolution of Homo sapiens is over. Further human development will be possible only through technology. This is nothing new. Take a look at the artificially manufactured internal organs – they already make parts of the eye, hearing devices and limb joints. Humans will be increasingly turned into robots. At a certain point, artificial intelligence will appear and it will be developing independently from us. As the Strugatsky brothers remarked, “Man is the intermediate link nature needs on the way to the crown of creation – a glass of cognac with a slice of lemon.”

I suspect that we are still on the road to perfection.

All of us should undergo a DNA test to find out the components we are made of.

Part 2
On artificial intelligence, push-button mobile phones, Big Brother, the FSB security service and moles

Have you had a DNA test yourself?

I have. It turns out that I’m half Scandinavian – via Arkhangelsk. Some of my other roots come from Poland.

As for my growing kids, they are Chinese on their mother’s side.

Incidentally, what’s that hieroglyphic character on the wall of your office? What does it mean?

That’s an embroidery my wife made. They used to write this way in the old days. That hieroglyph means dragon.

I thought it’s an encryption of your name.

It’s a very amusing subject to discuss. Our European names in China do not work at all. Here’s my advice to all companies that may set their sights on the Chinese market. Before you take the first step, hire a good consultant who will explain to you that this is a totally different world. Completely! Gaining a foothold in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore is much easier. Not so, if you are going to go into business in Japan, South Korea or China. You will certainly need someone who will brief you on the special features of the local culture, mentality and business behavior.

Yevgeny Kaspersky and Andrey Vandenko  Sergei Bobylev/TASS
Yevgeny Kaspersky and Andrey Vandenko
© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

Such as?

The Japanese never say No. It took me some time to realize that for them it would be equivalent to a gesture of disrespect for the conversation partner. It’s out of the question. And they never leave a tip. Should you unknowingly leave some extra money for the waiter, they will catch up with you on the street to return your change. They regard it as humiliating human dignity. In general, many things in Japan rest upon mutual respect.

What is the right way of expressing a polite refusal in Japan then?

Ashita. Tomorrow.

In other words, never?

The Japanese keep saying: “Hai, hai, hai.” Not to express consent, though, but to confirm that they understand you. When they really say Yes, you can be certain that no contract is necessary. Deceiving your business partner is equivalent to an expression of self-disrespect. That’s how it is in Japan.

In South Korea, there are different rules and traditions. And China has its own…

Now back to the foreign names that the Chinese do not understand at all. They just have no such sounds. And they have some sounds that we don’t use. Here is an example. There is a Chinese poem, as funny as it is absurd; some Chinese friends recited it to me once. Literally, it goes like this: “In a stone cave in the woods there lived a man called Shi. He ate lions. Shi had promised to eat up ten lions and he ate them.” To the European ear it’s a long hissing sound from beginning to end: “Shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi-shi.” When they recite this poem, many Chinese just burst out laughing. The long string of similar sounds is very amusing.”

Quite often they are unable to pronounce our names. My wife - and we’ve been together for many years now- is still unable to pronounce it properly [articulate Yevgeny, or it shorter version Zhenya]. She calls me Eugene the Chinese way. (You-jin). As for me, I do not know how to pronounce her name correctly. I can write it, but I’m still unable to pronounce it.

How long have you been together?

More than ten years… Incidentally, the name You-jin was suggested by a Chinese friend of ours.

Any Chinese name must sound and be written properly.

And what is the meaning of your name?

Well, by adding just one stroke to the character, You-jin will turn into Long-jin, meaning Gold Dragon. Let’s assume that I’m a Gold Dragon without a stroke.

Seriously speaking, when I was choosing names for our children, I kept in mind they should sound well in both Russian and in Chinese. For instance, Anton’s correctly written Chinese character means Safe East.

These examples should make it clear to everybody what our company has been through in the process of building a global business. Also, this explains why I love my job so much – it presents an opportunity to study many cultures and traditions. It’s incredibly thrilling.

In how many countries does Kaspersky have its operations?

In all of them, even in Antarctica, but we have no partners there. But we do have clients. They contact us regularly for software updates. I can say without hesitation we are everywhere.

We have about 400 million users and approximately 250,000 corporate clients, according to the most tentative estimates.

This is not much in real terms, though. Our segment of the world market is not big. Seven percent or so. In Russia – yes, we are the indisputable leaders. Our presence is noticeable in Europe, especially in German-speaking countries, yet overseas it is far more moderate. We have much room for growth and quite a few products to work on.

Do you see some positive trends?

For now, we are still stuck in the same place where we’ve been lately. Revenues are somewhere around $700 mln. But we would like to move up and forward, but… Both the company’s own mistakes and geopolitics are hindering this. In the United States they have built up a massive grudge against us. They stubbornly refuse to agree that our solutions are the best in the world.

Are they really?

Yes, this is a cold hard fact. We eradicate cyber malware far better than our competitors. We fight any type of malware, be it criminal or state-sponsored. Quite often we do not know who is behind a given attack. Sometimes it is very hard to determine. As for stealing cash or extortion, it is pretty clear, criminals were at work here. But when somebody eavesdrops or searches for some specific information? Then it’s called spying, but it is too hard to realize who arranged this and for whose interests.

We fight back against everybody indiscriminately. In response we see attempts at revenge, to settle scores. Once I was asked to attend hearings in the US Senate, where our company was going to be discussed. I replied: “Wait for me. I’ll be there.” My consent had a shellshock effect. The meeting was canceled and then moved to another day. I got no invitation, though.

They must’ve thought you wouldn’t dare show up?

At least, it looked like a pre-planned show trial, where my role was to be that of a dumb extra. In the meantime, I was determined to answer any questions and speak my mind.

The Americans claimed you cooperated with the FSB security service.

Naturally, what else could they have accused me of? It goes without saying there was not a single word of truth and no evidence. And there can be none. To be on the safe side, we carried out an additional internal audit, just in case. Of course, we found no signs indicating the Laboratory was gathering undesirable information.

To prove our innocence, in October 2017, we launched a global initiative for information openness – the Global Transparency Initiative. We created data centers in Zurich and Madrid. There are plans for opening another two in Malaysia’s Cyberjaya and Brazil’s Sao Paolo. We’ll go ahead with the project as soon as the pandemic ends.

In reality, a natural process is underway. Digital technologies tend to get more expensive. The amount of digital data is soaring, too. 5G will collect an infinite volume of information. Any fridge and any coffee machine will be pinging soon.

What is it you are saying? Doing what?

Here is a glimpse of your future. Our common future…

You wake up in the morning, get out of bed. The moment you do that all domestic appliances will start sending information to a cloud service. “Our master of the house has made a cup of coffee, opened the fridge, and took out three eggs.” This information is essential to knowing how much you consume. These foodstuffs will be delivered to you automatically when you start running out of supplies.

Some wish to make your life easier, because the Cloud system is well aware of everything that is happening. It remembers that on weekdays 40 minutes after you wake up you will need a means of transport to go to work. Also, the Cloud knows that your neighbors are up, too, and will go in the same direction at about the same time. A drone will be waiting in front of your door at a certain hour. You and your neighbor will be able to hire at half price. How about that?

It depends. Without the electronic eye of Big Brother, which we’ve discussed already, life would be much calmer.

Forget about it. There can be no turning back. Singapore is going to connect navigators to a Cloud system in order to govern city traffic and map out a route for each car.

Let’s move on. The idea of industrial revolution 4.0 is to employ cybertechnologies to optimize production. For instance, you’ve made up your mind to build a home. You have an arranged project, which is uploaded to a construction exchange on the Internet, where workers will be getting their necessary materials, but not all at once, but in accordance with the construction schedule. The nails, screws, beams and cement will be brought to the construction site strictly on time, when they will be needed. This will save a lot of transportation and logistics costs and other resources.

Do you see my point? As a result, all digital solutions - from individual to industrial - will be gathered in the Cloud. Its more convenient, faster and cheaper.

So far, so good. But as a security specialist I can see that there will be far more scenarios of interfering with the operation of the state and upsetting it. It is not just the economy that I’m referring to, but the nation’s defenses as well.

Are you telling us there is no protection?

This is one of the issues we are trying to address. Look. This box is our unique product: an industrial gateway. Take the very same building materials plant that is connected to the Internet. Hackers can get into its computer system and ruin everything. We create an obstruction to unfriendly interference. We place this gateway between the industrial network and the outside world.

It’s as simple as that?

No. But this device will make life far harder for all sorts of crooks. It is just like firewalls in office networks, which keep them isolated from the Internet. It is possible to get in, but not very easily.

The same can be done on a global scale.

What is the way out?

Self-respecting countries will be forced to store their information within their national territories. The Internet space will be fragmented, balkanized, if you will. The worldwide web will not be dismembered, it will remain integrated, but critically important digital resources will be accumulated and kept only inside national boundaries. It’s a matter of national security.

Isn’t this the reason why you, Yevgeny, still use a push-button mobile phone? Are you trying to hide in your everyday life from the cybertechnologies that can reveal everything about you to outsiders?

No, the reason is different. Honestly, I tried to start using a smartphone, but then I suddenly realized that I can afford to go on living without it. It’s easier.

Aren’t you being snobbish?

I do hope I don’t suffer from this disease… In general, I never buy things that I regard as useless. Take a look at my office, you won’t find a PC monitor or a coffee machine. Why should I need one, if I prefer green tea? Incidentally, the brand I like cannot be bought in any store.

Do you have a tea farm of your own?

My wife’s relatives do. Their home is in the countryside. They grow tea there and send me some from time to time.

That’s remarkable.

When the lockdown was introduced, all my family went to our dacha in the country. I’ve been residing in the city all alone in a six-room apartment since. I don’t have a study room. What for? With three little kids in the family it would be silly and ridiculous to try to lock myself up.

How old is your eldest?

To tell you the truth, I have five children, and I’m a grandfather already. The oldest of the youngest is nine.

Does he have a smartphone?

No. He never stops complaining and asking for one. I’ve managed to hold the fort so far.

What arguments do you use to beat back the attacks?

I asked him: “What do you need it for?” He said: “To take pictures.” I replied, “Take one from your mother and then give it back.” Nonetheless, he went on pleading: “I’m going to be making phone calls.” Yet I asked, “Who are you going to make calls to?” He said “you,” and I pointed out, “but I’m here and we can have a chat without it.”

For distance learning, the boy uses a laptop most of the time. He has begun to master programming languages. Most of his programs are still rather primitive games, but he wishes to have himself registered on a programmers’ site. For this he needs an account on his smartphone. It looks like I’ll have to give in soon …

In reality, a smartphone is a crucial necessity. The kids spend hours in chat rooms. That’s their club where they socialize. And he needs a PC as well, because even in his third year in school they are given tasks that cannot be tackled in any other way. Even if there had been no coronavirus and distance learning.

I’ve noticed that kids become system administrators at home instantly. They run all home IT systems. I don’t have the knack of tuning a TV set. They do it very easily. As an excuse I can say that I seldom watch TV. In fact, almost never. First, I have no time and second, the Internet is enough.

Are you familiar with the state of mind known as procrastination? Have you ever postponed the moment when you have to make an important decision to spend time on something of secondary importance?

I hate this. I always try to handle the most complex tasks. What’s the point of fooling around? I’ll have to do the job anyway. It’s like going to the dentist. If a tooth aches, it’s unlikely the pain will subside by itself.

It’s better to have tasty things for dessert. I like fresh fruit and always take my time enjoying it. When it comes to unpleasant, heavy work, it’s always better to get it over and done with. Fortunately, unpleasant tasks are rare.

Such as?

I hate firing people. You’ll agree that it’s hard to find any pleasure in it.

What are the reasons why you may ask your employees to leave?

Quite often it’s a lack of professionalism, or the inability to cope with tasks and duties.

Have you come across any moles?

Things like that happen once in ten years. We have nothing to pilfer. True, there were cases in which some staffers stole the source code, our intellectual property. How stupid of them! This is very easy to detect. Also, the development cycle is so fast that the originals become hopelessly obsolete in six months’ time.

Apart from this there is nothing to steal. Sometimes, we have no idea who our clients are. These are the specifics of our operation in a given country. Nor have we any access to the data of our partners. So you can’t dig up any compromising material on us. We are squeaky clean. We pay all our taxes. Incidentally, this has turned out to be a great benefit.

How long ago did you realize that?

At the very beginning. And we made it part and parcel of our written corporate code. When we grew big and some decided to take a closer look at us, it turned out that there was nothing to find fault with. As for the problems that are sometimes attributed to the Laboratory, they are very far-fetched.

Do you believe the words trust and trusting are synonymous?

No. Trust is an established relationship between two persons. Trusting describes the behavior of a specific individual.

What about you?

I’m an optimist and I still believe that good people outnumber the bad ones. That’s my approach to everything, until I’m cheated again.

Does it happen often?

The group of people I rub shoulders with is not a very large one. In the past, it was different. Especially in the company’s early days, when in 1997-1998 we tried ourselves out in the West and contacted our first partners. We were a small, low-profile company from impoverished, downtrodden Russia. Just imagine: an antivirus from the very middle of nowhere suddenly hits the market. What is it and where is it from?

At first, we were looked upon as savages. Then, attitudes changed and many started saying that the best programmers are in Russia.

You turned your family name into a corporate brand. Did that create problems?

I’m still not used to this. Natalya, my first wife and partner, suggested the idea. I was against it. But she said: “You are a public figure already. We’ll save a lot on advertising.” It’s turned out she was right. I kept objecting, though. Then Natalya said: “Think up something better yourself,” but I failed to do so, and the name stuck.

What year was that? 1997?

Roughly 20 years has passed, but I still feel startled when I hear somebody mention my name. I begin to feel uneasy. I’m not saying that I’m too humble and meek, by no means. But my ego hates to be in the limelight.

Kaspersky's 22th birthday in Zavidovo, 2019 Kaspersky Press Service
Kaspersky's 22th birthday in Zavidovo, 2019
© Kaspersky Press Service

Every year, we celebrate the company’s birthday. Over the past several years we partied in the countryside, in Zavidovo, where some 2,000 individuals would gather. We arranged different types of quizzes, contests and comedy sketches on stage. I always have a seat on the panel of judges. The moment somebody tried to pander to me that person was instantly fined for trying to build a personality cult.

In ordinary life, I keep a low profile to remain unnoticed by and large. I may agree to be interviewed once in a while, but I shun publicity on nationwide television channels. This explains why my face is not very recognizable. These days everyone stays at home. Before the pandemic, I was free to go to any shopping mall and walk around without being recognized. Nor do I have problems at airports, just if there is no crowd flying to some IT show or get-together…

Part 3
On bodyguards, paranoia, phishing, a sovereign Internet and run-ins with the police

Do you employ any bodyguards?

It depends on the situation in a given region. There are some unsafe countries. I don’t take bodyguards when I go to Chile. In Brazil and Argentina, I do sometimes, and in Colombia, I definitely do. There, we were even advised to rent a car with bulletproof windows, just in case.

But I have no arch enemies. I’m merciless only in dealing with those we fight against in cyberspace.

How about Moscow?

I hired bodyguards after my son Ivan was abducted in April 2011…

I wouldn’t like to go through that again. It’s over and done with.

All right. Then I’ll ask you a different question. Have you ever been a victim of phishing?

It almost happened to me once. To tell you the truth, nobody is safe from deceit. I saw a letter in my inbox one day. The sender’s address looked honest and clean.

Was the letter sent to your private e-mail address?

I have only one address for both corporate and private purposes. The message was simple. “Hi, take a look at what they write about you.” And the hyperlink. I was about to click on it. My inner voice was fast asleep. But eventually, I forwarded the message to my specialists. They confirmed it was a phishing mail scam…

It’s very good that I use the antivirus. Had it not been for this protection, they would’ve hit the target. I was about to click the button, but decided against it at the very last moment.

Paranoia is an occupational hazard of all those in the IT security business. The job leaves an unmistakable imprint. You live with the expectation of getting into a trap. Firemen must have a keen nose for smoke. The same with me. I look at each message I get with suspicion. What if something wrong is in there? Some messages are perfect forgeries.

Counterfeit business correspondence is malware’s most typical disguise. For this, electronic blank forms are stolen and forged instructions are written in such a way that it is very hard to identify fraud, but we manage.

Remember, I told you we have the best technologies? It’s a cold hard fact! This explains why both the criminal underworld and state-sponsored hackers hate us. We clean up everything faster than the others.

Who authors the hundreds of thousands of malware pieces that you uncover every day?

Cybercrime is a large but a very diverse monster. It falls into different subcategories.

There are small fry, cyber pickpockets. They breed trojans, release them onto the worldwide web, put them on mailing lists and go for an all-out hunt. Usually such items are not very complex and we instantly filter them out. Our products make it possible to provide protection within minutes.

But there are also professional cyber criminals who hunt for only certain types of prey – big businesses, banks and government organizations. Their catch is far greater.

Carbanak is a classic case of this sort that occurred in 2014, if I’m not mistaken. [They were] a gang of Russian-speaking hackers from Russia, Ukraine, the Baltics and some European countries. According to our estimates they siphoned off a billion dollars in just two years.

Were they apprehended?

Partially. Some were arrested, yet others managed to escape. Those guys operated in different countries. It was a real octopus. That’s what I call a genuine criminal business.

You often say that Russian hackers are the most vicious of all. Is that really so?

Yes, if you take the highly professional segment of cybercrime, you’ll see that all top cyber villains speak Russian.

What can explain this?

Soviet-era and then Russian quality of education.

We boast the world’s best programmers, and software developers, along with the world’s top hackers, too. All of them went to the same universities, but the end result turned out to be different. Whereas the first group tries to create something new, the other half seeks to hack and ruin. In almost 100 percent of the cases hackers’ motivation is the same – money, and money again, and still more money, and not only from the victim, but also from their clients. That’s how their value-added chains are formed.

Say one hacker writes a trojan and sells it to others, who infect victims but do nothing more than that, transferring access to third persons. These retrieve information and rip open everything they can. Jacks of all trades, you could say.

How did Carbabank work, for example? They hacked into banks, got inside the infrastructure and did whatever they pleased. They created false accounts, transferred money through their real ones, spawned fly-by-night companies and paid shadow wages. In fact, they managed the bank via the Internet.

Or take cash withdrawals. A triple tier pattern was created. The rank-and-file knew nothing about each other. They maintained contact by telephone. First, after getting orders the soldiers – mostly hired street punks - went to a particular ATM to withdraw cash. The money was then handed over to the “officer” who checked everything and put it into the common criminal fund.

The hackers were the organization’s top brass. In fact, they hired and governed ordinary felons.

Several years ago, the United States mentioned you among the world’s top ten most dangerous people.

What’s the point of repeating all sorts of silly things like those you may see scribbled on walls? Should I tell you why I was put on that list? Allegedly, we put the brakes on the program that targeted Iran’s nuclear program – Stuxnet. In reality, it was not us who did that.

Are you saying this with regret?

Yes. The spyware was exposed by a Belarusian security firm that cooperated with Iran. The United States pinned the blame on us and started writing nonsense based on misinformation.

On that list of “terrorists” there are two techies. Yours truly and the man who 3D-printed a gun… That’s the whole story. Regrettably, the Internet is a place where one’s lie is instantly echoed by others without checking. That’s how fake news is generated. The quality of information has deteriorated. To my mind, this happened when politics took over cyberspace.

And for this reason, a sovereign Internet is a blessing, right?

It’s a tricky question. To begin with, it will be impossible to… Let’s use the trendy term - to isolate ourselves. The network is global.

But the Chinese have succeeded in doing that.

Are you kidding? To bypass a firewall, you have to make two extra clicks. That will be enough.

Does that mean that the system does not work?

It works for three reasons.

First, up to 80% of users give up before they make those two extra clicks. Virtually, nobody reaches the final goal. It’s normal human behavior. There are several doors in front of you. You try one – it’s locked. The other is locked, too. In the end you get in through the door that is open. Trying several keys is boring. Most people tend to use the easiest way.

Second, there exists a tremendous amount of Chinese resources that are identical to global analogues.

And third, the Chinese live inside their own home, called Zhongguo – the Middle Kingdom. They are utterly uninterested in what is going on around them. They are focused on themselves and they possess every opportunity for this. Plus, throw in the traditional mentality. The Chinese have always been self-sufficient.

What about Russia?

Let me say once again that attempts at creating an isolated Internet space are doomed to fail everywhere. Even North Korea is connected to the worldwide web. True, critical information that has a bearing on national security can be concealed, but still a variety of options and loopholes will remain.

Yevgeny, neither you nor your company faces the threat of losing employment

For the foreseeable future, that’s definitely true. We will certainly have a lot of work for a very long time.

The first ‘virus’ you caught was in 1989, right?

Yes, it was called Cascade. I was the Defense Ministry’s programmer then. After Cascade, I focused on computer viruses in earnest. It was a great thrill. I went to different conferences and had articles published in different magazines.

The first computer I worked on was called MIR, and the programming language was known as ALMIR. It was huge machine! Occupying half of my office space. There was no screen. Perforated tape was used for input and an electric typewriter for output. To have an idea of what the MIR computer was like you can go the Polytechnic Museum. Its twin is on display there.

Yevgeny Kaspersky in his youth Personal archive of Yevgeny Kaspersky
Yevgeny Kaspersky in his youth
© Personal archive of Yevgeny Kaspersky

And I created and wrote my first program when I was 15. I went to the Kolmogorov School of Physics and Mathematics at Moscow State University.

Two lieutenant-colonels gave us classes, they taught us how to deal with math problems. Both had PhD decrees in physics and mathematics. They were remarkably open and frank. They easily put to rest our fears about military service. Their classes were very interesting and informative. They told us that even those who would agree to serve in state security agencies would be able to go ahead with their career as mathematicians. And it was really true, by the way. Cryptography is a wonderful science.

I was a very unruly young fellow, so I decided that a military uniform and order would help me reform my character a little bit. It was an act of self-correction.

But in fact, you made a decision to sign up for life; until you were discharged as a reservist or retired.

Right, until retirement. There were some other ways of quitting the service, for health reasons, by dying, or by going to jail.

Those were not very glittering prospects.

But then the hectic 1990s set in and I used my chance of leaving the service without a scandal or any problems. The commanders of the military unit where I served as a programmer were very helpful. All of them held PhD degrees in physics and mathematics. They were very intelligent people. I enjoyed their respect, because I knew more about computers than anybody around and they appreciated my advice and expertise. They told me: “Man, if you decide to quit, we won’t throw up any roadblocks.”

By that time, I’d made up my mind to go. That was in 1991. The Soviet Army was falling apart, while there was still a chance to find a quiet and guaranteed place for myself. I decided to take risks, possibly, to freelance to earn a living. In a word, to venture out into the open sea.

Incidentally, about sea voyages. I’d been successful in yachting. I was a member of the Spartak yachting club near the Vodniki train station on the Savyolovo railway line, north of Moscow. At a certain point, I faced a stark choice: whether to go ahead with sports, or to join a physical and mathematical school. There was no place in my life for both. I chose mathematics and never regretted that decision.

What was the worst virus you’ve ever come across? How much effort and time did it take?

Let’s put it this way. Handling the worst one in terms of resources was not my job. Some of my colleagues at the Laboratory took care of it. As for me personally… I should say, it was in the early 2000s, the first viruses for Windows. As I recall, I spent about a week on eliminating one. In those days, it was not full-fledged criminal activity yet, but rather an act of hooliganism, with no commercial interest involved. Viruses were being written like graffiti just for fun.

Have you ever created your own viruses?

One day your colleagues literally cornered me: “Confess, Kaspersky! Confess!”

I took a felt-tip pen and a sheet of paper and wrote a bat virus, in other words, its script, and said: “Here it is, the Kaspersky virus. Feel free to take pictures of it.”

Seriously speaking, one day there was an argument about the shortest possible self-multiplying virus in the Assembler programming language. Thirteen bytes were enough for me. You launch it and a file is created on the disk named “5”, which is a copy of the original one. If it is renamed to “5.exe,” another file will appear called “5.virus.” Then I destroyed it without leaving a trace. But after sometime somebody sent me in exchange a program that was 13 bytes long… That somebody had arrived at the same conclusion as I had.

And once I received a virus program toolkit. There was nothing criminal about it. Sheer hooliganism. I replicated a hundred copies to test the algorithm of exposing this stuff, cured them all and erased it.

Now you know all the three occasions when I wrote a computer virus.

I’ve never done that for hooliganism or for personal gain.

Is there something that does not respond to treatment?

Many things, encrypters, for instance. They are quite frequent today. Sometimes the information cannot be retrieved.

Stuxnet, which I’ve already mentioned, is lethal. It caused the destruction of uranium enrichment centrifuges. A blast furnace in Germany was ruined. An emergency shutdown command was issued. The furnace was said to have suffered “massive damage”. Saudi Aramco in 2011 lost 30,000 computers. The cyberattack ruined the company’s network. The company had been stalled for two weeks before the Saudis had it restarted.

Quite possibly, many other such stories can be told. But we do not even know about them.

Some hackers are known to have infiltrated networks and ensconced themselves there for a very long time before their presence was exposed. They kept doing their dirty work as long as they laid low. As soon as they became too active, their interference was instantly identified.

The same is true of any other criminal or espionage activity: professionals never leave fingerprints. If they do, they are not professionals.

But is total control a myth or reality?

Whose control? Remember the Snowden affair? He said there was the PRISM project, which the Americans used to spy on everybody. A popular outcry from the democratic public followed. Security specialists replied: “Haven’t you known that all along? Don’t you watch and read the news?” In 2007, there were protests in Sweden when the government allowed its secret services to get access to Internet traffic. Everything that goes out into the worldwide web is automatically monitored, one way or another. This does not mean, though, that some spy wearing dark glasses stays at some secret place with headphones on to scrupulously eavesdrop or read everything, of course, not. But should somebody suddenly start doing wrong things, some sensor will possibly turn the red light on…

You run operations in a whole slew of countries. Do you have to make allowances for local specifics?

We are obliged to respect the existing laws. If the VPN is prohibited in some place, we will not support it in our products. Say, in some Arab states and in China. In France, there exist certain restrictions on encryption keys, so we do not use them. Should law enforcement agencies come to us in the process of investigating some crimes, we certainly do provide assistance. Have such things happened in Russia? Many times. Also, we cooperate with the German, French and British cyberpolice. Europol, our old-time partner, has many successful investigations to its credit. And Interpol possesses a vast database.

Have you ever had any run-ins with the police, Yevgeny?

At 14, when I was still in the physics and mathematical school, I was brought into a police station and my name was put on record in a report.

What for?

I went out to cut some lilacs for a girlfriend, at night. By sheer coincidence, some cars were robbed in the area at that time. Police were combing the area. I was caught on the spot, carrying a knife.

And the lilacs.

No. I didn’t have time to cut any. I was taken to a nearby police station and given a good talking to. Fortunately, they managed to sort things out and then let me go. They didn’t even send a report to my school.

These days, police in many countries are our clients.

Part 4
On Dali’s elephant, the immune system, Rubik’s Cube, money and the Forbes list

What is it you do not hesitate to spend your money on?

Research and development, and new projects.

How about yourself?

My needs are moderate, so is my spending. There is nothing special to spend money on. I bought an apartment a long time ago. Ten years ago or so. I have no bank accounts or property outside Russia. I bought an apartment in China for my wife, but that’s her property. She stops there whenever she travels back home.

A lot is being spent on the kids. They cost a lot. Education, extra classes and sports all that is important and necessary. The more you invest today, the greater the return you will have in the future. It’s not spending but investment.

Wait, wait, now I remember! Not very long ago I bought an elephant.

A real elephant?

A bronze one. Salvador Dali’s work.

It’s a funny story. One of our directors collects netsuke, miniature Japanese sculptures. He is really obsessed with this hobby. A couple of years ago he even put it on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He is acquainted with various collectors. Then someone told him that an elephant by Dali was going to be auctioned in London. A green one. Green, as you may know, is our corporate color.

I did not go to that auction myself. There was a conference in the Dominican Republic for me to attend. But I made a stopover in London to take a look at the elephant. I liked it very much and said: “We must have it.”

There are just 14 such elephants in the world. Dali had cast eight for sale and gave away some others as gifts or left them for himself. The elephant at that auction was number four from that group of eight. There is even a special mark on its hind side, 4/8.

I specifically sent that director fond of collecting netsuke to go to the auction. I set the maximum price that we could afford to pay.

The auction was in progress while I was on my way to the Dominican Republic. The plane landed. I turned on my mobile and thought that in a moment I’d get a text message saying something like “we fought hard but lost.” Then this message popped up: “The elephant is ours.” And another one followed. “It cost a pretty penny.”  It exceeded the limit, though not by much.

Then a group of my colleagues came to me and said: “You know, Yevgeny, we’ve got a problem. If the purchase is registered in the company’s name, we’d have to pay huge taxes. So, why not buy it for yourself?” I replied: “Thank you, guys, you made my day. I’ve dreamed of the chance of wasting money like this all my life.”

The elephant is now mine. You can see it in our office’s main lobby. It was displayed in an open area, where any visitor can see it. A work of art is meant for everybody to enjoy. If it is right and proper, that is. The elephant is nice-looking, in my opinion. It’s called Triumph. That’s the name Dali gave to all fourteen of them.

Triumph Elephant by Salvador Dali installed in Kaspersky office, Moscow, 2016 Kaspersky Press Service
Triumph Elephant by Salvador Dali installed in Kaspersky office, Moscow, 2016
© Kaspersky Press Service

That purchase put an end to my acquisitions of any artworks, because I do not collect material items, but rather impressions and trips to exotic places.

I suspect that you were not granted permission to travel abroad immediately after leaving the army.

In the early 1990s, the country plunged into turmoil and chaos. I had managed to take a trip to Britain and then to Germany before my foreign passport was taken away. Officially, it was against the rules to issue a foreign passport to me, but I managed to get one. Then it was taken away. I obtained a new one only several years later…

At first, I was allowed to leave the country twice or three times a year, and then more often. Most of my trips were to international conferences. No private tours at all. I had no time for them anyway.

As I’ve already told you, I kept working non-stop 12-14 hours a day since 1991, and with practically no days off or vacations. I went on a seaside holiday for the first time in 1999 to Tunisia.

Now you have your own list of one hundred of the world’s most beautiful places. Have you seen them all with your own eyes?

Most of them. In fact, I have two lists. Have you ever heard about the 5A rating? It’s Chinese methodology. They classify tourist attractions by several parameters, including beauty, transportation and convenience. The higher the rating, the better the place.

I have my own standards – 5K. It must be splendid, grandiose, unique and diverse.

One of my lists contains the names of manmade wonders – cities, squares, streets and monuments.

Also, there are natural sites. Mountains belong to a special class. Volcanoes, to be more precise. I love volcanoes. I even have a lecture entitled “12 Reasons Volcanoes Are Way Better Than Mere Mountains.

But this is a topic for a separate long conversation. Don’t get me started; otherwise there will be no stopping me.

All right. Now tell us briefly where you will go first thing when the lockdown and other restrictions are lifted.

I hope that in the autumn we will get back to our normal work routine. I have no plans for any long journeys for now. But our cybersecurity conference I’ve told you about is scheduled for November.

Where will it be?

Same place, Barcelona, where we were going to hold it from the outset.

I haven’t canceled the summer trip to the Altai mountains. We’ve mapped out a very unusual route from Lake Teletskoye to Lake Akkem, from there to the upper reaches of the Katun River by helicopter, and then a rafting trip downstream, including part of the Chuya River…

Just recently, we launched an accelerator to support tourist startups – Kaspersky Exploring Russia. I invite you to visit it, just out of curiosity.

In any case, life will continue after the novel coronavirus.

Any global things on your agenda, Yevgeny?

In business? My motivation now is to change the world.


What’s the point of setting less ambitious tasks? As the saying goes: “We do the impossible, and everything possible will be done without us.”

A little bit more details about the forthcoming changes, please.

I’m talking about a new operating system. The world is now bound to digital technology. It is the most important thing that we have. But the digits are vulnerable. Should we create an immune-based operating system, the problem of saving the world will be resolved.

Some questions remain unanswered, though. For instance, I still cannot say how the traditional backup, which makes reserve copies, will be working in the immune-based system. It has to have access to everything, which is ruled out. Possibly, the backup function will be totally unnecessary. Saving the system will be senseless. It can be restored, and all data will be stored in a Cloud.

I hope that when we confront this problem (and we are still very far away from it) everything will be settled somehow. For the time being, we create immunity wherever not much of a wide range of functions is required. CCTV cameras and various sensors for the Smart City project are finished products ready for commercial use.

Also, we are working on mobile phones. They are not rivals to androids, by no means. The idea is this: an immune system that has the minimum list of functions – getting phone calls, messages and mail – but at the same time capable of governing the infrastructure.

What will this system look like in real life?

Like any android. The operating system is inside, while you use the applications outside. We will have approximately the same thing. The design may slightly differ. We’ve even developed two versions: a simple tile design and a professional, more sophisticated design, capable of working with critical, classified, and confidential information.

Will this be the salvation of humanity?

In a sense, yes. In our line of business.

It’s a great mathematical problem. I find it interesting to try to solve it.

Like solving Rubik’s Cube some time ago?

I don’t find it as amusing as in the past, but when my son started mastering a three-by-three cube, I had to refresh my skills. I solved the three by three cube and then taught my son to do it. With great joy he exclaimed, “Mom, mom, look! I made it!” Then I told him: “And now let’s try the four by four one. The boy failed. In fact, he felt bored and preferred to quit. I coped, though, and I liked it.

Ok, what’s next? The five-by-five one. It turned out that the algorithms should be slightly different.

Then there followed the six-by-six cube. Once you’ve realized how to solve this cube, each next one will be easier. Just rotate it according to the same pattern. When I solved the 11-by-11 piece, I stopped. Incidentally, the internal name of our operating system is 11 11. This explains why I felt obliged to solve the last cube. I keep it in my office.

I decided to stop right there. Why move on? I don’t enjoy the process any more. Besides, when the cube is too large, it gets inconvenient. All facets are upset now and then. The eight-by-eight one is still normal. Everything bigger has to be adjusted against the surface of the table. It makes no sense, once the principle is clear.

What about money? Is making money still a motive strong enough for you?

It stopped to be so a long time ago. I can even tell you when. In 1990. Then it was a matter of earning our daily bread. [We were] raising two little kids, and the family budget was very tight. One day I helped a nearby cooperative to get rid of a virus that plagued their PCs. They offered to pay. “How much?” they asked. I said, “I helped you just because we are friends.” They gave me a box of diskettes as a gift.

When they turned to me for help next time, I agreed to be paid. That’s how I started doing jobs on the side. Then some neighbors came to me and said: “You’ll make more in retail trade. Don’t worry, you know the hardware well enough.” I tried to start selling PCs. Nothing came of it. I realized that this was not my cup of tea. I find it boring to do something just for the sake of making money. That’s how I began studying computer viruses again and looking for countermeasures.

By August 1998, I felt that I was a rich man.

After the default?

That’s when the ruble plummeted. Our foreign partners in those days made contract prepayments. Then, Yeltsin’s decree was suddenly read out on TV… It was a weird experience. I phoned my mother in the countryside asking: “Where do you keep the money? We should buy something NOW, before it turns to dust,” I warned. She told me where it was. I grabbed all the cash, rushed to a nearby store and purchased the most expensive liquors. I told the salesman: “I’m taking everything from the middle of the upper shelf and to the end.” I left with two full bags. A dozen bottles, no less.

A female colleague rushed in and said: “I’ve been paid a bonus and have had no time to spend it yet.” I said: “Go and buy a fur coat.” She went and did as I told her. She would wear the coat for several years and never miss a chance to thank me for that good piece of advice.

Then I realized that an exporter company is a safeguard of stability. We do not depend directly on the situation in a certain country. For instance, the Brazilian currency may have dropped, while some other one elsewhere soars. The euro goes down, and the dollar goes up, then it’s the other way round.

I never worry about volatility on the currency market.

But do you care about your place on the Forbes list?

When I got there, I instantly felt that it would’ve been far better, if that had not happened at all. Very soon my son Ivan was kidnapped… Such publicity cuts both ways.

Of course, I sometimes have a dream of seeing my name approach the top of the list, but then I promptly drive such thoughts away. It’s very wrong, it’s not what really matters.

And do you know what really matters?

Why, naturally. I still think about it very often. But I will never say this out loud to anyone. Don’t even try to ask.

I will be pulling out of business slowly and gradually. I will be loosening up work pressure step by step and let others take matters in their own hands. Even now I’m not very much involved in the operating activity. I do not run the company in the usual sense. I delegated managerial powers to those who are in charge of a given field of activity. When I read Richard Branson’s book The Virgin Way: How to Listen, Learn, Laugh and Lead, I realized that our methods of managing subordinates and businesses are identical. I look for the right people and give them the freedom to make decisions, but at the same time they are obliged to assume responsibility.

Do you reserve the role of saving humanity for yourself?

No, this will not happen in an instant. It’s different from turning the lights on.  It’s a very lengthy process. Extra motivation has to be developed.

By whom?

By humanity. A great deal will depend on how painful the human race will find some incident.

Would you make this a little bit clearer, please?

Look, everything depends on digital solutions from wristwatches to nuclear power plants. The advent of immune systems will require rewriting the software that has been created over the past 50 years. This strategy will not work. I’m persuading our partners and clients to leave everything that works well to be left as it is. But what’s being done from scratch should be immediately created on the basis of the immune system.

The result will be a gradual, demographic – in the technological sense – substitution of old technologies with new ones, without a revolution.

Will we live long enough to see the day?

Hopefully, yes. Something is changing already. As soon as humanity gets a handle on the pandemic, people will set their eyes on the distant future. The immune-based system will be a global thing.

Andrey Vandenko