Eugene Kaspersky, charismatic CEO of the global computer security company that bears his name, brings an eccentric touch, passion and a sense of fun when it comes to marketing the increasingly serious business of combating spy software. In an interview with The Official Ferrari Magazine, the Russian entrepreneur reveals his business philosophy and love of fast cars
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Kaspersky Lab. An internet security company worth over $600 million, with branch offices all over the world, and an enthusiasm or some rather eccentric promotional campaigns. In recent years, it has also had an increasingly close relationship with Ferrari. Eugene Kaspersky, the head of this Russian miracle, arrived at Maranello ready to tell the secrets of his success and his relationship with four wheels and high speeds. Dressed casually in jeans and an open shirt, with a smiling, confident manner, Mr Kaspersky receives me in the basement room of a Bologna hotel, almost as though he wanted to highlight the importance of discretion in his business (it is said that he worked for years with the Russian secret services, though not a whisper from him about this). In reality the sultry conditions are neutralised here, just as effectively as the way in which his antivirus software destroys threats to computers. A global best-seller, Kaspersky is now one of the richest men in Russia.
The Official Ferrari Magazine What’s the secret of your success?
Eugene Kaspersky I didn’t know it was a secret. Rather, the secret is not to reveal my secrets. Joking apart, in reality I believe there are various factors that contribute to the success of my company. I would say at least three. The first is to always focus on technology and on choosing the best talents to work with. In Russia we are full of brilliant minds, thanks to our country’s exacting education system. It is no coincidence that Russian engineers are among the most appreciated, not only in their homeland, but also in Silicon Valley and in Israel. The second factor is that we are all 100 per cent dedicated to this company, and therefore act promptly and effectively. And third, at Kaspersky there really is a good working environment. There are many who say that working at the company is more fun than elsewhere. And if people smile, they always work better.
TOFM Is research also important?
EK Definitely, and it is always a matter of partners and technologies. You see, we have a network of associates from every corner of the planet to combat computer viruses, from Latin America to Japan, even if we do not have anyone in Italy yet. There is continuous research on a global scale.
TOFM In the last few days we’ve heard talk of Flame, a spy software that your company was the first to discover. What can you tell me about that?
EK The basic idea is that there are governments who are very attentive to the so-called “cyber war”; that is, warfare based on software, while many others are still unaware of it. And that is a colossal mistake, because the whole modern world depends on software, even in real infrastructures, those you can touch with your hand. Just think of the power blackout that brought New York to its knees a few years ago, or the sabotage in Estonia, or the malfunctions of nuclear plants in Iran last year. These are just some examples of accidents that have been caused by sabotage through computer programs. The most recent is Flame: a spy program dedicated to government systems. In short, country X copies Flame into the computers of country Y and then gets access to all kinds of top secret information. You can easily understand the kind of risks being run. The particularity of Flame is that it was created by various groups of engineers: behind it, therefore, is the organisation of at least one government body, even if it is hard to trace back to it.
TOFM Can you give me a definition of antivirus software?
EK A condom for the internet, no more, no less.
TOFM Why did you decide to use your surname for your company? Does it perhaps come from a
certain nationalistic pride?
EK No, not at all. It’s a rather old story. In essence, I have been working on security software since 1989. In 1997, when the time arrived to found the company, my ex-wife, Natalya, then the sales manager, told me, ‘Eugene, I think it would be best to use your surname, because you are well known in Russia, and this job is based on trust.’ By nature, I actually would have preferred to remain in the shadows, but I followed her advice. And, of course, it turned out that Natalya was right: the following year, at an event, we presented Kaspersky Lab officially. And the visitors recognised my name.
TOFM Tell me about the relationship between Kaspersky and Ferrari.
EK We are partners. We are sponsors for the Formula One team, Le Mans and GT; they are our customers. Is that enough for you? At the moment we are not handling the security of the on-board computers, because right now there are no major risks, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the more the cars progress, the more important on-board computer systems will become and, therefore, the importance of protecting them from harmful programs will also increase. Now there are big cars with small computers, one day there will be small cars with big computers.
TOFM Are you saying that even on-board computers can catch a virus?
EK Oh, of course. On-board computers use programs, and every single program is subject to various development errors that can then be exploited by harmful software in order to sabotage it.
TOFM Why did you decide to sponsor Ferrari in F1? It’s a little strange, for a company that produces antivirus software.
EK To tell you the truth, we like slightly mad projects, the unconventional ones. In Asia, for example, we sponsor Jackie Chan, but we also sponsor expeditions to the South Pole, and a pop group in Japan. And then there is that event that we held in Russia.
TOFM What’s that?
EK You know when we tell someone to go to hell, to go to that place that many of us believe
to be somewhere completely imaginary? Well, in Russia that village actually exists; it’s small and it’s in the middle of nowhere, away from the more populated areas: we decided to organise our main conference on computer security there.
TOFM And why there?
EK Because to hold it in a large city, such as St Petersburg, would just have been far too easy, yet
it was almost impossible there. I told you we like crazy projects!
TOFM And so we arrive at the Ferrari idea…
EK Exactly. We were looking for an event that was a bit out of the ordinary, in our sphere, but also
recognisable at a global level. In short, an event respected and known by everybody. So we immediately thought of F1. At that point, the time came to choose a team to sponsor. It had to be a top team, and honestly there are not many of those. Among them, Ferrari is the most respected. It may not always be on the podium, but when you think F1, you think Ferrari. And so we started with a small sponsorship, to extend it if we liked the idea, or to pull out if not. It’s now been three years that we’ve been carrying the project forward, and three years that we’re increasingly expanding it.
TOFM So I imagine you have a great passion for sports cars.
EK Of course, I’m a man. I like beautiful women and sports cars.
TOFM Which model of Ferrari do you own?
EK Do you remember that downpour in Rome in November last year? Well, my Ferrari was in an underground garage that was submerged by water. And there was no escape for my 458 Italia.
TOFM If an antivirus product were a car, what parameters would you act upon to improve it?
EK Ah, a good question. On safety, consumption and speed.
TOFM Do you have the free time to follow the world of racing and to turn yourself into a racing driver?
EK Of course, at the very least I find time to look at the results of the various races, less to race in person. The last race I participated in was in Italy, in 2010, in Adria [the 24 Ore per Telethon charity race]. My team, including Giancarlo Fisichella, came first. All thanks to them. Not having great experience on the track myself, I raced badly, but their excellence led us to victory.
TOFM Which race fascinates you most?
EK Hmmm, hard to choose, but I would say Le Mans, which I find very interesting. And then I like the Singapore F1 circuit very much: it’s held at night, with all the lights of the city as a backdrop. It’s a real spectacle.
TOFM Russian drivers are rising in profile, and of course in F1 there is Petrov, who is doing well. Do you think Russia can give us future champions?
EK [laughs] Is Petrov doing well, in your opinion? The fact is that Russia has many excellent drivers in off-road races and rallies, because the country is full of dirt tracks to practise on. You see this particularly in the Dakar Rally. Yes, I believe that, in races like these, Russia will increasingly get the lion’s share of victories.
TOFM What’s your favourite hobby?
EK I collect badges from all the conferences in which I participate, and labels of the check-ins for
suitcases. Because, in reality, my passion is travel. In my blog there is a list of the 100 places I would like to visit before I die. I’m around halfway through, which isn’t bad.
TOFM The place you’ve liked most?
EK Undoubtedly, Kamchatka: it is wild, full of mountains and geysers. Nature in its pure state.
TOFM Your next trip?
EK I’m still travelling now. In a month and a half I get to go home: Geneva, the Bahamas, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Catania, Bologna, Tel Aviv, London, Washington, Munich and Beijing. However, I believe my next trip will be to Moscow.
Eugene Kaspersky smiles, rather wearied by this conversation, which has lasted almost an hour. He stands up, says goodbye, and politely heads towards the lift. I try, for an instant, to imagine what passes through the head of a man so rich, both in monetary terms and in dreams and life experiences. In reality, after a while I discover that actually not a huge amount of imagination is required to understand him. Today we will do a few laps at Maranello: he was thinking about the settings for the car.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine 18 issue September 2012