Cisco Shipping Hardware To Bogus Addresses To Throw Off NSA Intercept-And-Implant Efforts

from the 1324-Middle-Finger-Extended-Blvd. dept

Cisco became an inadvertent (and very unwilling) co-star in the NSA Antics: Snowden Edition when its logo was splashed across the web by a leaked document detailing the agency's interception of outbound US networking hardware in order to insert surveillance backdoors.

It moved quickly to mitigate the damage, sending a letter to the President asking him and his administration to institute some safeguards and limitations to protect US tech companies from the NSA's backdoor plans. To date, there has been no direct response. So, Cisco has decided to handle the problem itself.
Cisco will ship boxes to vacant addresses in a bid to foil the NSA, security chief John Stewart says.

The dead drop shipments help to foil a Snowden-revealed operation whereby the NSA would intercept networking kit and install backdoors before boxen reached customers…

"We ship [boxes] to an address that's has nothing to do with the customer, and then you have no idea who ultimately it is going to," Stewart says.

"When customers are truly worried ... it causes other issues to make [interception] more difficult in that [agencies] don't quite know where that router is going so its very hard to target - you'd have to target all of them. There is always going to be inherent risk."
Stewart acknowledges that Cisco's modified dead drop shipping operations aren't foolproof, but will at least force the agency to do a little more research before intercepting packages. Stewart also noted that some customers aren't taking any chances, opting to pick up their hardware from Cisco directly.

There are also variables Cisco simply can't control, like the possibility of inbound components from upline manufacturers arriving pre-compromised. But it's doing what it can to ensure that "Cisco" isn't synonymous with "spyware."

Then there's always the possibility that the government may find Cisco's new routing methods to be quasi-fraudulent and force the company to plainly state where each package is actually going. No response has been issued by the ODNI or NSA to this news, and most likely, none will be forthcoming. Any statement on Cisco's fictitious routing would tip its hand.

Cisco's plan makes a lot of assumptions about the NSA's capabilities, most of which aren't particularly sound, but this seems to be more a public display of pique than a surefire way to eliminate most of the NSA's hardware interceptions. It also sends a message to the NSA, one it's been hearing more and more of over the last couple of years: the nation's tech companies aren't your buddies and they're more than a little tired of being unwilling partners in worldwide surveillance.

Filed Under: backdoors, fake addresses, interception, nsa, shipping, surveillance
Companies: cisco

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Kal Zekdor (profile), 20 Mar 2015 @ 9:11pm

    Mitigation, not Prevention

    Cisco's plan makes a lot of assumptions about the NSA's capabilities, most of which aren't particularly sound...

    I don't agree. Cisco is well aware of NSA capabilities, and they know that this plan isn't enough to prevent tampering en route. With enough tracking/surveillance/infiltration of Cisco operations/personnel, the NSA can and likely will still find, intercept, and tamper with intended targets.

    In that case, why did Cisco bother? Two reasons. First, which was touched on in the article, is to simply make a statement. They are proclaiming to the world and to the NSA that they're not willing to sit idly by while the surveillance state drives their reputation (and their bottom line) into the ground. This is a symbolic protest as much as an actual mitigation.

    Second, yes, this is a mitigation. These precautions won't make it impossible for resourceful (in both meanings) third parties to intercept equipment, but they will make it more difficult, and thus costlier. Even the NSA only has so many man-hours it can direct. If it now takes twice as many man-hours (an over-estimation, I'm sure, but no matter) in order to backdoor a router en route, then they are only able to do so half as often.

    Cisco, or any US based company, can only do so much to thwart the surveillance state. Any pushback, however minor or symbolic, is to be applauded. On the same note, any willful collusion should be considered a betrayal of their customers, and the public at large.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.