Cisco Shipping Equipment to Empty Houses to Thwart NSA

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 equipment manufactured by Cisco and install backdoors before the devices reached customers.

The interception campaign was revealed last May.

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Speaking at a Cisco Live press panel in Melbourne today, Stewart says they will ship to fake identities for its most sensitive customers, in the hope that the NSA’s interceptions are targeted.

“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 says some customers drive up to a distributor and pick up hardware at the door.

He says nothing could guarantee protection against the NSA, however. “If you had a machine in an airtight area … I stop the controls by which I mitigate risk when I ship it,” he says, adding that hardware technologies can make malicious tampering “incredibly hard”.

Of course, Cisco is also trying to figure out exactly who has NSA beacons already installed in their equipment, though it’s hard for them to tell since they have no idea what the NSA’s top secret technology. The company’s best bet is to ask customers to pick up the equipment directly from the factory or ship it to an empty house, as if it were some sort of drug deal. Because this is what surveillance in America has come to.

After the hacking campaign Cisco boss John Chambers wrote a letter to US President Barack Obama saying the spying would undermine the global tech industry and damage the reputation of his company.

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