A man who goes by the name Lucas Lambert reportedly spent months setting up meetings with three cybersecurity experts under false pretenses last year, hoping to get them to say that they were paid to criticize Kaspersky Lab. Lambert was unsuccessful, but the attempt sheds new light on alleged covert activity potentially carried out on behalf of the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm.
In a new report from the Associated Press, a number of different analysts claim that they met with Lambert believing that he wanted them to deliver talks at a cybersecurity conference. But the experts, including Keir Giles who studies the Russian military for British think tank Chatham House, were almost immediately suspicious of Lambert’s real intentions.
“He was drilling down hard on whether there had been any ulterior motives behind negative media commentary on Kaspersky,” Giles told the AP. “The angle he wanted to push was that individuals—like me—who had been quoted in the media had been induced by or motivated to do so by Kaspersky’s competitors.”
Kaspersky Lab has come under increased scrutiny ever since the Russian government waged a divisive information campaign during the 2016 presidential election to help elect President Donald Trump. The U.S. government has banned the use of Kaspersky software on federal computers, ostensibly on the grounds that its antivirus software stole documents from government computers. Twitter has even banned Kaspersky from advertising on its platform. The security firm, meanwhile, denies any ties to Russian intelligence.
In an October 2017 story published at Wired, Giles called it “entirely normal and natural” that Kaspersky would work with Russian intelligence agencies. But that kind of comment would likely raise the ire of any tech company, even if it was true.
“We’re just in the same kind of territory of any large multinational company being induced to collect information for the U.S. government,” Giles told Wired. Notably, Huawei, which the U.S. has accused of committing fraud and stealing trade secrets as it attempts to quarantine the China-based technology giant’s 5G technology, has had a similar defense of late, pointing out that the U.S. government demands private information of American-based tech companies.
When reached for comment, Kaspersky declined to address whether Lambert has ever worked for the company. “Kaspersky Lab has no comments at this time,” Meghan Rimol, corporate communications manager, told Gizmodo by email.
By Giles’ second meeting it became clear that Lambert had no interest in just having him speak at a conference, AP reports. The alleged spy’s tactics started to take an almost comical tone, if Giles is to be believed, as Lambert started asking Giles “to repeat himself and talk loudly.” All he needed was a big flower-shaped microphone on his lapel, by the sound of it.
As the AP explains, Lambert’s supposed firm, NPH Investments, doesn’t appear to exist in any real sense:
In an email exchange with the AP, Lambert insisted that he and his company were genuine, but he did not reply to follow-up questions about the multiple discrepancies in his story or make himself available for an interview. The AP could find no evidence of the existence of the firm Lambert said he worked for, Tokyo- and Hong Kong-based NPH Investments.
It’s not immediately clear who this Lambert character may have been working for. Was he working directly on behalf of Kaspersky? Was this the work of the Russian government? Or, if we’re going to go full cloak-and-dagger with our speculation, is this a disinformation campaign coordinated by a western intel agency to further cast suspicion on the Russian firm during the New Cold War?
There were enough similarities to previous spying cases with other tech firms that the AP reached out to Black Cube, an Israeli intelligence firm, which was caught trying to discredit Citizen Lab, a watchdog research group. Citizen Lab believes Black Cube’s bungled spying attempt was connected to its report that spyware made by a notorious Israeli cyberweapons firm, NSO Group, had been installed on the iPhone of a confidante of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to his murder.
Black Cube denies employing Lambert and also denies ever working for Kaspersky.
Who is Lucas Lambert? Whoever he is, he’s been burned. That being said, Gizmodo would love to talk to him. We’re just going to need him to talk louder. No, even louder. And could you repeat that? Spying for whom?