Cisco takes additional steps to fight counterfeit network gear

Cisco takes additional steps to fight counterfeit network gear

Cisco has added new security labels and enhanced cooperation with online marketplaces to crack down on criminals hawking counterfeit network hardware and software

Credit: John Noonan

Looking to counter the growing sophistication of counterfeit networking products, Cisco recently added new layers to protect customers.

“Counterfeiting hardware and software is an illegal and lucrative trade which leads to an estimated $100 billion loss of revenue annually across IT industries. As one of the largest and most reputable brands in the world, Cisco is often a target of counterfeiters,” said Al Palladin, legal director and head of Global Brand Protection at Cisco.

Counterfeiting presents serious risks to network quality, performance, safety, and reliability. It is dangerous because counterfeit products are not designed or built to meet the same safety standard certifications that genuine Cisco products attain, he said.

Cisco’s 60-person worldwide brand-protection team works with law enforcement and customs officials to stop counterfeit products at borders, identify counterfeiting operations, and pursue legal actions against infringers of Cisco’s intellectual property rights, including trademarks, Cisco says.

Palladin says there is an increase in volume and sophistication when it comes to counterfeit gear and software.

“There is a growth in illicit marketplaces for all types of software and hardware, particularly in transceivers,” Palladin said.

The good news is that there is more cooperation with legitimate marketplaces such as Amazon and Alibaba, as well as better cooperation from Chinese law enforcement and others, Palladin said. To make counterfeiting Cisco recently added a component it calls Identity Counterfeit Platform—a system of secure labels and other technologies such as label scanners designed to detect counterfeit products and thwart fake product sales.

The Identity Counterfeit Platform includes carton security labels, often found overlapping the edge of the carton’s white label with the Cisco hologram and a new printed circuit board assembly holographic security label. There is a module-security label, which features security indicators for optical transceivers and high-speed cable assemblies.

These security labels on new products purchased from Cisco-authorised channels should correlate to the transaction date.

“We also created a ‘Report Counterfeit Products’ form for customers using our anti-counterfeiting techniques and feel that something is not right with the labels or equipment,” Palladin said. “Through the form, customers can escalate any concerns directly with Cisco Brand Protection and provide key market intelligence to help disrupt counterfeiters. The Brand Protection team reviews the reports on a daily basis.”

Counterfeit Cisco gear was in the news over the summer when security researchers at F-Secure reported fake versions of its Catalyst 2960-X Series switches were discovered on an unnamed business network, and the fake gear was found to be designed to circumvent typical authentication procedures.

F-Secure reported its investigators found that while the counterfeit Cisco 2960-X units did not have backdoors, they did employ measures to fool security controls. For example, one of the units exploited what F-Secure believes to be a previously undiscovered software vulnerability to undermine secure-boot processes that provide protection against firmware tampering.

F-Secure included the following advice to help organisations avoid falling prey to counterfeit devices:

  • Source all your devices from authorised resellers
  • Have clear internal processes and policies that govern procurement processes
  • Ensure all devices run the latest available software provided by vendors
  • Make note of even physical differences between different units of the same product, no matter how subtle they may be

At the time Cisco stated: “Maintaining the integrity and high quality of Cisco products and services is a top priority for Cisco. Counterfeit products pose serious risks to network quality, performance, safety, and reliability. To protect our customers, Cisco actively monitors the global counterfeit market as well as implements a holistic and pervasive Value Chain Security Architecture comprised of various security controls to prevent counterfeiting.

"Cisco also has a Brand Protection team dedicated to detecting, deterring, and dismantling counterfeit activities. Combatting widespread counterfeiting and protecting intellectual property rights are sizeable challenges facing the entire technology industry."

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