Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Britain's National Cyber Security Center warned all government agencies of "a risk to national security" if they use Russian-based Kaspersky Lab anti-virus software.
The chief executive of the agency sent a letter to all permanent secretaries that was publicly released Saturday, saying Russia has the intent "to target UK central government and the UK's critical national infrastructure" though the software company.
Ciaran Martin said "for systems processing information classified SECRET and above, a Russia-based provider should never be used," CNN reported.
"We need to be vigilant to the risk that an AV product under the control of a hostile actor could extract sensitive data from that network, or indeed cause damage to the network itself," he said. "That's why the country of origin matters."
The agency's technical director, Ian Levy, said he saw "no compelling case at present to extend that advice to wider public sector, more general enterprises, or individuals."
"Whatever you do, don't panic," Levy said. "We really don't want people doing things like ripping out Kaspersky software at large, as it makes little sense."
Martin said he was in talks with Kaspersky Lab to "develop a framework that we and others can independently verify."
The company, based in Moscow, denies "unethical ties or affiliations with any government, including Russia" and "has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage or offensive cyber efforts."
Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of the company, told Sky News in October his company had a "strong relationship" with Russian cyber police but they never engaged in espionage activities.
In September, the Department of Homeland Security ordered U.S. government agencies to remove any products from Kaspersky Lab because of security concerns.
Last month, the company confirmed it extracted sensitive files from a U.S. National Security Agency worker's computer, but said it wasn't a deliberate move. The company investigated after The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 5 reported Russian hackers spied on the U.S. government using Kaspersky software to find and steal classified files on the NSA contractor's home computer.
Later, The New York Times reported that Israel alerted the United States that Kaspersky software was being used for espionage.