Federal government agencies are banned from using software developed by Kaspersky Lab, a Russian firm with alleged links to that country's intelligence agencies, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said in a statement Wednesday.
The Department of Homeland Security issued the order on September 13 following growing criticism in Congress and elsewhere about the Moscow-based company's software products, which are widely used in the United States and elsewhere.
"The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates US national security", the DHS said in its statement.
In a statement, Kaspersky Lab rejected the allegations, as it has done repeatedly in recent months, and said its critics were misinterpreting Russian data-sharing laws that only applied to communications services.
Earlier Wednesday, the DHS issued a Binding Operational Directive (BOD) calling on the USA departments and agencies to identify and "to develop detailed plans to remove and discontinue present and future use of the products" supplied by Kaspersky Lab within 90 days. A 2012 report from Bloomberg discussed founder Eugene Kaspersky's ties to the Russian FSB and his background in KGB-sponsored cryptography research.
Asked by Reuters whether there was a smoking gun showing Kaspersky Lab had provided intelligence to the Russian government, Joyce replied: "As we evaluated the technology, we decided it was a risk we couldn't accept".
In an announcement, Kaspersky Lab said it was "frustrated" with the choice and said it depended on "false affirmations and wrong presumptions".
"Given that USA government sales have not been a significant part of the company's activity in North America, Kaspersky Lab is exploring opportunities to better optimize the Washington D.C. office responsible for threat intelligence offerings to US government entities", the company says in a statement.
Agencies in the executive branch are expected to begin the process of discontinuing Kaspersky products within 90 days.
Earlier this week, retailer Best Buy said it would stop selling Kaspersky software for the time being.
The directive provides Kaspersky an opportunity to respond or mitigate the department's concerns.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), citing classified information, has pushed for legislation to ban the government from using Kaspersky software.
"Expanding the company's presence in the region will better enable Kaspersky Lab to provide its customers with the best cybersecurity solutions and services", the statement said.
"The reason all this drama is happening is because there were articles that came out indicating that Kaspersky had ties to the Russian government", said Dan Tentler, founder of Phobos Group.
It said it was not a telecoms provider and so not subject to the Russian laws Duke referred to on cooperation with the government. However, it claimed this was because "U.S. government sales have not been a significant part of the company's activity in North America". "Kaspersky is a direct threat to national security".
Several lawmakers have been sounding alarms about Kaspersky for months.
Security expert Alex Hamerstone said the US government's decision could have widespread implications.