The Trump administration on Tuesday removed Moscow-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab from two lists of approved vendors used by government agencies to purchase technology equipment, amid concerns its products could be used by the Kremlin to gain entry into US networks.
The delisting represents the most concrete action taken against Kaspersky following months of mounting suspicion among intelligence officials and lawmakers that the company may be too closely connected to hostile Russian intelligence agencies accused of cyberattacks on the United States.
Kaspersky products have been removed from the US General Services Administration's list of vendors for contracts that cover information technology services and digital photographic equipment, an administration spokeswoman said in a statement.
The action seems to follow an incident in early May when six US intelligence and law enforcement agency chiefs were asked in an open Senate hearing whether they'd let their networks use Kaspersky software, often found on Best Buy shelves. The answer was a unanimous no.
The question, from Florida Republican Marco Rubio, came out of nowhere, which according to Bloomberg is often a sign a senator is trying to indirectly draw attention to something learned in classified briefings.
Lawmakers raised concerns that Moscow might use the firm's products to attack American computer networks, a particularly sensitive issue given allegations by US intelligence agencies that Russia hacked and leaked emails of Democratic Party political groups to interfere in the 2016 presidential election campaign. Russia denies the allegations.
The action was taken "after review and careful consideration," the spokeswoman said, adding that GSA's priorities "are to ensure the integrity and security of US government systems and networks."
Government agencies will still be able to use Kaspersky products purchased separate from the GSA contract process.
Kaspersky's anti-virus software is popular in the United States and around the world, and the firm has been a leading player in the cyber security market for decades. Western Europe and the US accounted for $374 million of the company's $633 million in sales in 2016, according to researcher International Data Corp.
Chief executive Eugene Kaspersky took to Reddit to respond. Claims about Kaspersky Lab's ties to the Kremlin are ''unfounded conspiracy theories'' and ''total BS'', the company's boisterous, barrel-chested chief executive officer wrote.
In a statement, Kaspersky Lab said it had not received any updates from GSA or any other US government agency regarding its vendor status.
''Kaspersky Lab has no ties to any government, and the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts," the company said.
''When statements are taken out of context, anything can be manipulated to serve an agenda,'' Kaspersky said, adding that it had been "caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight where each side is attempting to use the company as a pawn in their political game."
The delisting was done the same day that ABC News reported the Trump administration was considering implementing a broader ban that would block agencies from using Kaspersky software.
Last month the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a defence spending policy bill that would ban Kaspersky products from use in the military. The move came a day after the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed several of the company's US employees at their private homes as part of a counterintelligence investigation into its operations.