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'I Got More from Studying at HSE than I Anticipated'

Mikhail Vasin

Why shouldn’t you use public Wi-Fi to log onto your bank account? How should PR specialists talk to journalists? Why is continuing education a good idea even for those already considered established experts in their field? These are a few of the topics Mikhail Vasin, the Head of Corporate Communications for Russia and Emerging Markets at Kaspersky Lab and an alumnus of the HSE Higher School of Marketing and Business Development, discussed in an interview with HSE.

Learn from Others’ Mistakes

I majored in marketing, and in the early 2000s I got the opportunity to try my hand at PR at a PR agency. I took a great interest in it and worked with different foreign brands. But I was ecstatic when I got an offer from Kaspersky Lab because it was completely in line with my determination to work for a Russian company that is popular aboard. Information security seemed like an in-demand and extremely prospective field to go into, and after many years, I can say that I was right.

After a few years with the Lab, I wanted to start working on international projects. I enjoyed learning about different cases from around the world as a way to avoid making the same mistakes others had when working with new territories. As they say, it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.

I began reading international professional literature and looking into continuing education. After studying the market, I decided on the Marketing Asset Management programme at the HSE Higher School of Marketing and Business Development. It seemed like the most interesting programme as far as the theory-practice ratio was concerned, and it gave students access to the school’s top foreign experts.

You have to take a personalised approach when it comes to the press. A formal relationship, like mass press release distribution, doesn’t work

I now understand that I gained more than I expected from my studies. The majority of classes, even the theoretical ones, were aimed at solving concrete problems, and we had the opportunity to work with leading industry experts – from marketing directors at large companies like KamAZ all the way to the heads of popular marketing, advertising, and PR agencies. It was an exciting year that involved solving problems and arguing in order to come up with new ideas practically every day.

I still keep in touch with my classmates to this day. A lot of them work at larger companies. Some of them got new jobs right after the programme, while some of them were promoted from their old jobs. I decided to stay in PR, and I worked my way up to the head of the department. In the role, I could see my ideas really come to life – ideas that I wouldn’t have even thought of had it not been for the continuing education programme.

International Projects

'Kaspersky Lab' has been a leading company in the information security sector since 1997. The company’s technologies protect over 400 million users and 270,000 corporate clients. The Lab has 37 regional offices in 32 countries and on five continents.

At the time, Kaspersky Lab was growing rapidly, and every new territory the company expanded into required not only a specific business approach, but we also had to build systems of communication from the ground up. For example, it became clear that it was no longer feasible to hold just a single press tour in Moscow for journalists from all over the world. That’s why we came up with the idea of holding a series of local events called Cyber Security Weekend, where our global experts from countries as far as Japan and Argentina talked about vital informational threats that journalists face in their local regions and around the world.

This isn’t just a press conference; it’s a two-week programme after which, aside from key news events, journalists cover three or four more topics connected to information security. Through these events, my team is able to establish a strong, long-term relationship with the media. And as a result of working with the press in a region like Latin America, for example, our expert has been invited to CNN Español’s highest-rated Sunday talk show.

You have to take a personalised approach when it comes to the press. A formal relationship, like mass press release distribution, doesn’t work.

Projects in Russia

Among our Russian projects, I’d particularly like to mention an IT expedition that Kaspersky hosted where we were able to bring together journalists, bloggers, Lab experts, and representatives from the IT industry. Evgeny Kaspersky himself put forth the idea behind the event when it became obvious that interest in information security was falling, as internet users were becoming more careless in how they handled security online. We needed a new approach towards the audience.

We got together 250 participants and went to Uryupinsk (as it turned out, a lot of people didn’t even know that Uryupinsk was not just a city from old Russian anecdotes, but a real place located in the Volgograd Region. The project put together a serious IT conference whose business portion was visited by a top-level federal minister and regional heads, while we also held a celebration similar to Brazilian Carnival for Uryupinsk residents. Two-thirds of the city came to the celebration, which also included performances by famous bands. The next year, we held a competition among smaller Russian cities that wanted to host the IT expedition, and Kozmodemyansk ended up winning. 

Cybercrime Becoming a Business

Every year, Kaspersky Lab identifies more than 300,000 new malicious programmes. With such large amount of malware, each of us becomes a victim of spam at least once thanks to things like bad file attachments or blocker and data encryption software. This is why we always try to warn and educate users. A lot of people don’t understand how to behave on the internet, but it’s important to always be aware of what’s going on.

Today’s antivirus software isn’t just a programme; it’s an entire host of technologies and tools. If we’re talking about protecting your business, for example, we can’t just set up protection and kick back our feet. You have to constantly look at what’s happening on the corporate network to see if there are any anomalies. You have to teach employees the rules of internet security. No matter how good the computer protection software is, it’s still not enough to protect you against a number of other attacks, including targeted ones. This is why some leading companies spend up to 60% of their information security budget on an information security assessment.

We buy tickets online using public Wi-Fi, we think up just one password for all of our email addresses and Facebook, and then we’re surprised when all of our friends get a message on Skype from us saying, 'I’m in a pinch. It’s urgent – send me 20,000 rubles…'

The internet was created with no consideration given to information security. It was a military network, and the creators believed that a person couldn’t gain access to a computer without permission. But times have changed, and internet access, as well as all of the other possible services connected to it, have turned so-called cyber hooligans into businessmen who are able to make money by stealing data and money. This is now a branch of organized crime – a branch that has its own business plan, its own HR and tech managers, an accounting division, and all of the other things that any organization needs to function. It’s an industry that is organized just as well as drug or arms trafficking.

The cybercrime landscape is changing rapidly. One might say that we now live in an era of cyber warfare. There are well known cases where the internet systems of an entire nation have fallen into the hands of cybercriminals. For example, back in 2007, Estonian websites were under a lengthy botnet attack from all over the world. Most affected by the attack were the websites of the president, parliament, the ministries, the media, and financial organizations. Ultimately, in order to stop the hackers, Estonia had to temporarily block all international traffic.

Lessons in Everyday Cyber Literacy

Here are a few simple recommendations. Be careful with your inbox. If you receive something that looks like spam, do not open any attachments and do not click any of the links in the message. Also, don’t enter your information on any website from the message, even if the email looks like it came from your bank or a governmental organization. Any direct link might be a phishing attempt. Ideally, you shouldn’t use any links to go to a website that asks for your personal data; it’s better to type the address in manually.

My next recommendation concerns public Wi-Fi networks. Nowadays, we like to connect to Wi-Fi whenever and wherever possible – not only to check our email, but also to access our bank accounts online from time to time. But even in a famous café, no one is stopping a cybercriminal from sitting at the table next to you and creating a fake network with the same name as the café’s to make all of your traffic flow through his or her laptop. If you’re dubious about the security of an internet connection, but still want to get online, at least avoid accessing your bank account or other important servers. Use your mobile phone and your mobile network to do this. As for me, I connect through a VPN, which is a good way of protecting my data, though it’s not free. With a VPN, traffic is encrypted and routed through a protected tunnel, which stops the information you’re transferring from being picked up somewhere.

I also recommend using two-factor authentication. It’s not always offered by default, but you can typically find it in the settings. Even if a cybercriminal gets ahold of your password, this makes it difficult for them to access an online service under your name.

Always remember that when you are careless with information security, you endanger not only yourself, but others as well. For example, if scammers gain access to your email account, then they also gain access to your entire address book. We always lock our apartment doors and set the alarm on our cars, but a lot of internet users are under the impression that nothing bad can happen online. We buy tickets online using public Wi-Fi, we think up just one password for all of our email addresses and Facebook, and then we’re surprised when all of our friends get a message on Skype from us saying, ‘I’m in a pinch. It’s urgent – send me 20,000 rubles.’ But people believe these kinds of messages and transfer the money.

There’s Always Something to Learn

We’ve all seen how entire industries can die, but as a response, entirely new products come about. Accordingly, people change their consumption habits much more frequently than they used to. Because of this, companies have to come up with developments of a new marketing mix, while the modern-day specialist must be able to use their experience and knowledge to react quickly. So when the exchange rate is unstable and when you are unsure of which securities or types of real estate to invest in, the only right thing to do is to invest in yourself an in your knowledge.


On May 20th, 2016, the HSE Higher School of Marketing and Business Development is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its first graduating class and invites alumni, students, and partners to the conference ‘Ten Years on the Road to the Future!’

More about the Conference (in Russian)

Interview by Liudmila Mezentseva


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