Lead, melamine, and backdoored routers

It seems that not a day goes by without a new media alert regarding bad things in the chinese supply chain. First it was lead in our toys, then it was melamine in our milk, and now it also may be backdoors in our counterfeit Cisco hardware.

A recent BusinessWeek article discusses a criminal prosecution from late 2007 that raised the possibility that counterfeit Cisco routers have made their way into the western supply chain. Purchasers apparently include several government agencies and contractors, including branches of the military.

While counterfeit products may be a major economic concern, they also present a vector for foreign concerns to inject backdoors into critical infrastructure. This scenario is rather unlikely, as it would be far more cost effective for an attacker to compromise desktop systems using social engineering and trojans than it would be to create a trojaned router. Nevertheless, the possibility pushed the FBI to launch Operation Cisco (Cylon?) Raider in an effort to clamp down on the sale of counterfeit routers.

Unlike toys and food, performing a in-depth analysis of what goes into these routers would be expensive and possibly imperfect. Much like the apocryphal story of the CIA-initiated Soviet oil pipeline sabotage, we may never know if these mongrel devices were either pure clones or something more sinister.

[Source: zdnet]