High street bank Barclays has announced it will cease offering customers free Kaspersky antivirus software, amid fears it could be subject to Russian spying.

Earlier this month the National Cyber Security Centre warned government agencies against using Russian antivirus products (of which Kaspersky is one) for services related to national security. Such products were, the NCSC claimed, at risk of being exploited by the Russian government. Matters have been taken one step further in America, where Kaspersky Labs stands accused of being used for state-sponsored espionage – a claim the company firmly denies.

In light of the warnings, Barclays has now sent an email to 290,000 of its customers saying will stop offering Kaspersky products free of charge to any new sign-ups – which it said was a “precautionary decision”.

Despite this policy change, however, Barclays advised current Kaspersky users to continue using the software. The email said: “The UK government has been advised… to remove any Russian products from all highly sensitive systems classified as secret or above. We’ve made the precautionary decision to no longer offer Kaspersky software to new users. However, there’s nothing to suggest that customers need to stop using Kaspersky.”

This sentiment was echoed by the NCSC, which reiterated that any antivirus software was better than nothing at all for domestic web users. Technical director Ian Levy told the BBC that there was no evidence to suggest its guidance issued to government departments should apply to the wider public.

“We really don’t want people doing things like ripping out Kaspersky software at large as it makes little sense,” he said.

It’s little surprise that hackers or spies should target antivirus software, as it’s so pervasive. Not only are most computers equipped with some form of antivirus protection, the software itself has access to every single computer file – providing a rich cache for anyone who manages to find a way to get in.