Cisco has responded to allegations that its gear allows the NSA to spy on people.
Over the weekend, the German publication Spiegel Online published yet another news story about how the NSA is spying on people worldwide. Documents, that did not come from Edward Snowden, showed that the NSA has a special unit, called Tailored Access Operations (TAO), Spiegel reported. The unit’s job is to hack into laptop software and network equipment from companies like Microsoft, Cisco and Huawei, the documents said.
Cisco was alarmed to be called out by name and on on Sunday its top security exec, John Stewart, published a response. He said Cisco was “deeply concerned” and was launching an investigation.
The article did not accuse Cisco of working directly with the NSA. Cisco’s network equipment runs most of the world’s corporate networks and many of the world’s telecommunications networks that are part of the Internet.
Hackers at TAO are reportedly using security holes in products from these companies to break in and do their spying, much like an illegal hacker would use holes to break in and plant viruses or steal personal information.
Like most enterprise vendors, holes are regularly found in Cisco’s products and Cisco swiftly patches them. Stewart, insists that there aren’t any new holes in Cisco’s products and given these accusations, “If we learn of a security weakness in any of our products, we will immediately address it.”
We have to point out a little irony here: Cisco was recently successful in a campaign against Chinese competitor Huawei over similar accusations. Cisco CEO John Chambers complained that the company’s gear had back doors that would allow the Chinese to spy on U.S. companies. In 2012, U.S. legislators investigated and warned U.S. companies not to buy products from Huawei and another Chinese manufacturer. Earlier this month, Huawei officials said they were pulling out of the U.S. market altogether.
A congressional report in October 2012 reiterated those concerns and cautioned U.S. telecoms about buying Huawei and ZTE equipment.