For many in law enforcement and national security in the U.S. security concerns are very big after the FBI discovered that the U.S. military had bogus computer gear in use in its military networks. The fear is that counterfeit networking components could introduce Trojans and possible security breaches into secure networks in America.
According to The New York Times, the FBI ran an investigation called Operation Cisco Raider that has so far led to 15 criminal cases involving counterfeit products that were bought and in use by U.S. military agencies, military contractors and electric power companies in America.
Operation Cisco Raider uncovered 3,500 counterfeit Cisco network components, with an estimated value of $3.5 million. According to the FBI’s briefing of the Office of Management and Budget, the counterfeit equipment could allow the remote jamming of networks thought to be secure and possibly could allow access to networks remotely.
A Cisco spokesman told The New York Times, “We did not find any evidence of re-engineering in the manner that was described in the FBI presentation. We know what these counterfeiters are about." Cisco believes that the counterfeiters weren’t attempting to get products into the market that would allow intrusion into secure networks. Rather Cisco feels that the counterfeiters were simply trying to produce copies of popular products to make fast money.
The threat of gaining access to secure systems via backdoors and exploits in hardware is real. Researchers at the University of Illinois were able to modify a Sun Microsystems SPARC processor by altering a data file on the chip. The chip altered was used in automated manufacturing systems and the modifications allowed the researchers to steal passwords from the system the processor was used in.
The issue of compromised hardware used in defense systems was highlighted with the bombing of the suspected Syrian nuclear plant by Israel. In that recent example, security analysts believe antiaircraft weapons were compromised and were turned off remotely prior to the attack.
Compromised hardware isn't the only source of security breaches for secure networks. A simple phishing attack on one of the countries most prestigious research laboratories allowed the breach of information from networks at Los Alamos.