IT departments have been urged to steer clear of any "too good to be true" bargains on Cisco equipment, to avoid buying counterfeit goods.
The warning follows the seizure by the US Department of Justice and Department of more than 400 counterfeit Cisco network hardware and labels with an estimated retail value of more than £38m last month.
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Businesses drawn to buying bargain Cisco equipment could find the products were not covered by Cisco's guarantee and may contain malicious software, said industry specialists this week.
Terry Street, product manager for procurement at Socitm Consulting, said, "If you buy a counterfeit the product may not be fit for purpose and you may not be able to register it correctly with Cisco." These so-called "grey import" products would likely have an identical serial number to a genuine product, he said.
Gary Sussex, ICT services manager at Newham Borough Council said, "There are 'Grey imports' available on the market, some of which are supplied as 'Genuine'." To tackle the problem he said he dealt exclusively with Cisco Approved resellers using catalyst or PASA frameworks for purchasing. This means equipment serial numbers are logged and can be checked with Cisco for authenticity.
The problem for network administrators is that the counterfeit network equipment is very good and so it can be difficult to spot differences.
A Cisco reseller commenting on an online message thread about fake Cisco gear last year said, "The fakes are very good, look the same, work the same, running the real IOS (Cisco operating system), its amazing how good they are considering they are fakes often very high quality but still nothing beats having authentic gear with full support from Cisco."
IT directors should also be wary of the IT security implications of counterfeit network equipment. Computer Weekly blogger David Lacey said, "Security professionals in high threat environments have long been concerned about the sourcing of hardware and software. That is because it is easy to plant a bug or a back door, but extremely hard to detect one."
Ken Munro, managing director at SecureTest said that the existing accreditation process did not cover switches, routers and other devices at a low enough level, to detect firmware-based malware.
Cisco said it was working closely with law enforcment agencies around the world to prevent the sale of counterfeit equipment.
“There are some steps that a customer can take to minimize the risk of purchasing counterfeit products. The most important of these is to make sure that the supplier they are purchasing the products from is an authorised Cisco partner,” it said.
Cisco said concerned users should contact Cisco Brand Protection at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to spot fake Cisco gear
*The price is too good to be true.
*Avoid buying Cisco grear from eBay or direct from China
*Make sure documentation is written in English, using the same font and without spelling mistakes.
*Serial numbers should be checked against Cisco's database.