To avoid NSA, Cisco gear gets delivered to strange addresses

Cisco's security chief said the company has accommodated special requests for those worried about the NSA

One of the most successful U.S. National Security Agency spying programs involved intercepting IT equipment en route to customers and modifying it.

At secret workshops, backdoor surveillance tools were inserted into routers, servers and networking equipment before the equipment was repackaged and sent to customers outside the U.S.

The program, run by the NSA's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group, was revealed by documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and reported by Der Spiegel and Glenn Greenwald.

It was one of many revelations about the NSA that caused widespread suspicion that U.S. technology products shouldn't be trusted, even if companies strenuously denied helping the agency.

And it appears some Cisco Systems customers have since taken steps to prevent NSA tampering.

The company has shipped equipment to addresses that are unrelated to a customer, said John Stewart, Cisco's chief security and trust officer, on Wednesday during a panel session at the Cisco Live conference in Melbourne.

In theory, that makes it harder for the NSA to target an individual company and scoop up their package. But supply chains are tough to secure, Stewart said, and once a piece of equipment is handed from Cisco to DHL or FedEx, it's gone.

Still, the risk of such tampering is pretty low for most customers. Cisco has been working on better ways for customers to verify the integrity of the systems it ships, but there will always be certain amount of risk that can't be mitigated, Stewart said.

"If a truly dedicated team is coming after you, and they're coming after you for a very long period of time, then the probability of them succeeding at least once does go up," Stewart said. "And its because they've got patience, they've got capacity and more often than not, they've got capability."

One of the leaked Snowden documents, dated June 2010, has two photos of an NSA interdiction operation, with a box that said Cisco on the side.

The document, labeled top secret, goes on to say that supply-chain interdiction operations "are some of the most productive operations in TAO, because they pre-position access points into hard target networks around the world."

In May 2014, Cisco CEO John Chambers sent a letter to President Barack Obama, arguing that the NSA's alleged actions undermine trust with its customers and more broadly hurt the U.S. technology industry. Cisco also asserted that it does not work with any government to intentionally weaken its products.

During the roundtable on Wednesday, Stewart was asked if Cisco ever identified any strange hardware put inside any of its products.

"No, we couldn't, because the only people who would know that for sure is the NSA," Stewart responded.

(Adam Bender of Computerworld Australia contributed to this report.)

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Cisco Systemssecurity

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?