‘If You Don’t Try, You for Sure Will Not Succeed’: Eugene Kaspersky Visits HSE
At the invitation of the HSE Student Business Club, CEO, Russian cybersecurity expert, and Forbes-ranking billionaire Eugene Kaspersky visited HSE University to meet with students. Kaspersky discussed the founding of his renowned Kaspersky Lab, his experience entering the international market, and the role of all things digital in the world.
On Cyber Villains in the Digital World
Cybercrime happens on a mass scale: approximately 300,000 uniquely infected files appear every day. And about the same number of cyber villains operate online, stealing bank account information, filching people’s personal data, and spamming users.
It is clear that several hundred thousand files cannot be analyzed manually. We need automatic search and recognition systems. Kaspersky Lab technical solutions can automatically solve this problem in 99% of cases – we are the best in the world at doing this. I really dislike the term artificial intelligence. It’s just a fancy word people use to make more money. We have a joke in the industry: if it’s ‘machine learning’ in C++, in a promotional presentation it’s artificial intelligence.
We don’t have statistics on hackers—we don’t know how many of them there are and what languages they speak. But by looking at the lines in the code, you can determine what language the compilers of the operating system used. Almost all major world languages are represented, but most often there are Chinese, English of different purities, and Russian. And I can say that cybercrime at the most professional level speaks Russian. It’s hard to fight it. We use machine learning, math, anomaly detection...
If you are thinking about going into business in IT, information security is one of the most exciting areas
Cyberattacks are waged not only on private users, but entire industries. For example, a cyberattack on a German steel company led to the physical destruction of a blast furnace, and an attack on Ukrainian electricity networks led to a blackout. The whole world around us has long been digital. Power plants, power grids, even a modern car – a computer that you can drive – are controlled digitally. We are all dependent on digitalism, and our task is to protect infrastructure facilities and make them safe. There is still a lot of work to do.
On Viruses as a Hobby
In the early 90s, my computer caught a virus. As a mathematician and a programmer, I was curious to figure out how it worked. I thought, ‘What if I deploy the algorithm back, will the file be cured?’ And the file was cured. I told my colleagues, and they started bringing their infected devices to me. I began to collect viruses. The first year it was a hobby. I started writing tools, and then I made an interface with mouse support for it.
In ‘91, I began developing my idea into a business, even though there wasn’t any money in it. When there were three of us in the company, I set our first goal: to come up with the best antivirus in the world. Two years later, the first tests of anti-virus programs were conducted, and we took first place.
We had zero experience running not only an international business, but even a Russian one. We lived by the fact that I did work on the side for an English company, filling their anti-virus database and getting five bucks per entry. I knew English only from listening to the Beatles and Pink Floyd.
After we placed first in the anti-virus tests, small companies starting reaching out to us about distributing our software in Italy, Belgium, and other European countries. But these were all scammers. Who else would want to work with some unknown Russian startup? It was 1995. Software from Russia was viewed as no different from, say, software from Uruguay.
However, over the past five years, attitudes towards Russian software have changed dramatically. At first, we sat in an ambush—people were coming to us—and then we began participating in exhibitions and building a partner network. In the third stage, we started sending expeditions to start businesses in Latin America, Asia, Australia.
On Entering the International Market and Fears
How do you build up a global company? Don’t be scared. If you make a mistake, you can fix it. Don’t break the law; build a reputation. Be prepared to be deceived. If you don’t have enough funds for promotion, work with scammers. It is a necessary cost for finding your way to other contacts.
Before entering the international market, you need to be doing something better than others. You need to have some kind of feature that will attract partners to you. Few companies can build up direct sales, like Apple. It’s ecosystems that win. We use this scaling system almost everywhere. You need to understand your uniqueness — and other cultures — and work a lot.
Don’t be afraid to part ways with people who aren’t right for you. You must find the best for your team
Don’t be afraid to hire people better than yourself. When you have a big company, expect the same from your directors and managers. People are your main tool — if it weakens, the work of the unit and the company itself suffers.
Beginning entrepreneurs should be prepared for nothing to work out. But if you don’t try, you for sure won’t succeed. When I started, there were ten antiviruses in Russia: one company didn’t want to go to other countries, another one was tired, another one didn’t work as hard. I was doing the right thing at the right time. And I couldn’t even imagine that it was right at the time. But that’s how it happened.
On a Sovereign Internet and Domestic Software
Russia is one of the few countries that can say it produces good software. There are three countries that I know of that can do this: the others are the United States and China. Russian programmers are the best in the world. These are not my words, but Condoleezza Rice’s.
Russia is also one of the leading countries in the field of information security. The Internet is becoming increasingly important for the economy, the state, and security. Whether it’s industry or transport —everything is digital, and a huge amount of data is generated. In addition, 5G is coming, which will collect information about users to predict their needs.
The amount of personal and business data will be such that it becomes an ideal target for attacks on the state. All countries will have to introduce laws restricting cross-border movement of information. They will have to make sure that all the parts of the global digital world that belong to Russian citizens and enterprises remain in Russia. All other states will do the same sooner or later. Therefore, digital space regulations will, unfortunately, become stricter.
After all, when the car was invented, there were no speed limits, police, or road signs. Then the number of cars increased, and they became dangerous — then there were police, rules, and surveillance cameras. The same thing will happen with the digital world – consider these inevitable regulations a tax on your digital happiness.
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