Cisco using "dead drops" to thwart NSA spying

  • 25 March 2015
  • NormanL
Cisco Systems takes on the NSA

The NSA's relentless spying on just about everybody has finally generated a response from an American tech giant. cisco">Cisco Systems is now sending hardware to fake addresses (called "dead drops") in order to avoid NSA chop shops, where the agency installs tracking devices on internet">Internet components:

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.

The interception campaign was revealed last May.

Speaking at a Cisco Live press panel...Stewart says [Cisco] 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".

Cisco has poked around its routers for possible spy chips, but to date has not found anything because it necessarily does not know what NSA taps may look like, according to Stewart.

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.

Is it an extreme step? Absolutely. But government spying has become so widespread and so invasive that private industry has no choice but to fight back.