Kaspersky Lab lifts the iron curtain

Eugene Kaspersky is a rare breed: gregarious, outspoken, suit-resistant, a smoker and a cyptographer trained at a KGB-backed high school.

The co-founder and CEO of Russian security software company Kaspersky Lab cuts an unlikely figure in the sober realm of enterprise IT.

Nevertheless, while the company is better known in the consumer market, it is starting to make serious headway in corporate markets. In Europe, for example, it can now claim some big names, including French institution Airbus and Germany’s railway company Deutsche Bahn. But the UK market has been less forthcoming. “The UK market is a bit different – much more conservative,” says Kaspersky. Besides, he jokes, “British people are cold.”

Regardless of British conservatism, more than a third of the company’s revenues are now derived from corporate entities – albeit mostly in the small to medium range.

As this development indicates, Kaspersky Lab – which has an 800-strong workforce and growing – is advancing fast. Indeed, having enjoyed 130% growth in 2007 to reach $200 million, its founder believes it can reach $1 billion by 2012. Crucial to that will be its plans to IPO in the near future. And frosty or otherwise, it will largely be British investors that the company will have to persuade if it is to successfully float on the London Stock Exchange, as many market-watchers believe it inevitably will.

In many respects, observes Kaspersky, flotation goes against the fiscal philosophy of the company, which has been self-financed since its inception in 1997. But Kaspersky is conscious that major organisations, particularly those based in the US, are chary of doing business with a privately held Russian outfit. “Being a visible software company and not being public is seen as strange,” Kaspersky observes. “To enter the key accounts, especially in the UK and US, we have to be listed.”

Listing on a Western exchange will also allow the company to “go shopping”, as Kaspersky puts it. In the security industry – particularly the anti-virus sector – this isn’t just necessary for growth, but also for survival. Developments in the malware landscape are currently stretching anti-virus companies to their limit, forcing them to develop a range of integrated heuristic and behaviour-analysis technologies that will protect against a variety of growing threats in a scaleable way.

This places particular pressure on Kaspersky Lab: the need to “go shopping” is becoming pressing, but uncertainties in financial markets mean it is a dangerous time to risk an IPO.

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