Cisco Systems (CS) is one of the biggest and most successful manufacturers of networking equipment. It has not reached such a high position in the electronics industry without suffering several controversies.
This company with total assets of more than 100 billion might be facing the biggest controversy of its existence, however, as news of 'tapping” becomes widespread.
No Place to Hide
The author of book 'No Place to Hide,” Glenn Greenwald, reveals the relationship between CS and Big Brother. Conspiracy theorists have long suspected that the US government is constantly watching them and through Greenwald’s book, this might well be true.
Greenwald’s source is none other than Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), revealing that the NSA has been tampering with Cisco’s products in a bid to keep track of specific people or 'targets.”
In a newsletter released in the year 2010, it was revealed that the products are being pulled out of their original route, brought to a secured location and installed with beacon implants. These same products are then placed back to their normal route and delivered to intended targets who are the wiser about the tampering.
Snowden further identifies Tailored Access Operations (TAO) employees as the ones directly responsible for the placement of the beacons.
The allegations were released together with a photograph showing a team from NSA as they install the beacons in electronic devices with the Cisco logo. According to the book, the photo came with the newsletter specifically sent to all NSA employees, citing it as a 'routine process” by the Access and Target Development Department by the NSA.
Of course, not all CS products were tampered with these beacons as the NSA chooses specific people they want to 'monitor” and proceed to bug their electronics for inside information.
Without Our Knowledge or Permission
The allegations caused a country-wide clamor with the NSA placed under a magnifying glass by the public. For CS however, the problem can be bigger as it threatens the future of this billion dollar company.
To control the damage, a top executive from the company immediately publishes a response through their official website. Mark Chandler, SVP of General Counsel and Security categorically deny any involvement with the United States on these 'beacon implants.” He goes further by saying that they do not work with any other government – including the United States.
Another top executive of the company reveals that if any tampering was made, it was done without the company’s knowledge or permission. Senior Manager of Corporate Communication Nigel Glennie further implies that the information given in the book were vague.
According to him, although the logo of the company was clearly visible through the photo, there were no specifics as to the products tampered with, the techniques used by the NSA as well as the weaknesses of the said products.
A Letter to Obama
What is interesting about this story is the fact that CS sent a letter to Obama asking for help about the situation. For some people, the mere fact that they appealed to the President of the United States verifies their knowledge of the tapping done by the NSA.
Sent by John Chambers, a CEO for the company, the letter underlines the importance of trust between them and their consumers.
'Our customers trust us to be able to deliver…products that meet the highest standards of integrity and security.”
John Chambers points out that the controversy could ruin the position of the United States as a world leader in technology. He hoped that with the intervention of Obama, the trust of American citizens on the company products remains strong, ensuring that the Internet is never impaired due to the controversy.
Although there is no question that the company is one of the biggest however, there are others in the industry that cater to a large amount of users. Large Internet-based companies such as Dropbox, Facebook and the giant Google have also expressed worry over the leaked information. In total, there are 8 technology vendors who have expressed negative responses over the leaked information.
Specifically, Dropbox, Apple, AOP, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo have also drafted a letter to Obama, citing the 'harmful” effects of the information control. The president along with the congress was prompted to establish laws on government surveillance with 'proportionate risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”
In contrast, some may say that the Foreign Intelligence Act of 1978 or FISA gives the government sufficient power to tap into electronics without violating the law.
In FISA, the US government is given the freedom to utilize both electronic and physical surveillance in the process of gathering information against any person or group threatening terrorism and espionage within the US soils.
What Happens Next?
The American public is divided over the news of NSA’s tapping of Cisco products. Although some have no problem with this controversy if it is indeed true, others are crying foul over the possible breach in their privacy. For some however, the question is: what if Cisco isn’t the only one? What if other networking companies are also being utilized for the same purpose?
Right now, the instigator of the controversy – Edward Snowden – is in Moscow on exile. Right now, it seems as though the media has moved on to more 'current” matters, but Ibrahim Baggili sheds some light on why NSA has gone through such difficult lengths to 'spy” on their targets.
The Director of the University of New Haven’s Cyber Forensics Research and Education theorizes that NSA’s main goal is to collect data from targeted individuals and track traffic between groups and persons. The ultimate goal: to protect the US soil against foreign threats – something the government has been very keen on since the 9/11 tragedy.
Vice President and Principal Analyst in Forrester Research, John Kindervag, notes that the intensified surveillance is 'inevitable.” He noted that it is only natural for the NSA to push the limits and see at which point they are reprimanded for their behaviors.
He concludes that the Internet is 'very young in the scope of world history” and that the balance between security and privacy in the digital age is still not achieved. Whether the equilibrium is found after the NSA controversy remains to be seen.
Photo source: NorthSydneyIT (northsydneyit.com.au)