Sales for security appliances such as firewalls, unified threat management devices and intrusion prevention systems climbed a healthy 6.5 per cent in 2013's third-quarter as businesses looked to bolster their data protection posture.
However, a new report based on an Edward Snowden leak indicates many of the market-leading security appliances have government-planted back doors, allowing for stealthy surveillance and data gathering.
According to German news magazine Der Speigel, the US National Security Agency's Tailored Access Operations - an elite unit of government hackers - has planted backdoors and other mechanisms for siphoning data from commonly used IT desktop and network equipment. The devices and techniques are published in an internal catalogue by the Advanced/Access Network Technology (ANT) unit, which offers access to other departments.
And it's not just security appliances that are affected. According to Der Speigel, leading networking and security equipment manufacturers including Cisco and Huawei for switches and routers, Juniper for firewalls, and Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung for hard drives are affected. Dell is among the vendors, but the compromised equipment isn't specified.
Equipment produced by other vendors is likely in the 50-page catalogue. The report doesn't go into great detail about specific vendors, but does indicate the NSA has techniques for gathering data through compromised monitor cables and USB flash drives.
The Der Speigel article mentions none of the vendors listed are complicit with the NSA backdoor programme. The implications are that the NSA surreptitiously planted the backdoors in equipment and computer code without the manufacturers' knowledge. Some reports indicate the NSA intercepted equipment in transit to plant the backdoors. The programme has been in operations for years, which could mean tens of thousands of devices are likely affected.
Revelations about the extent of NSA spying on corporations and individuals comes as enterprises move to bolster their data security to safeguard their information and mitigate the chances of unauthorised government surveillance.
Leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden are credited with spurring many companies, particularly cloud service providers such as Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo to strengthen the security of their products.
According to IDC, worldwide spending on security appliances increased to $2.2 billion in the third quarter of 2013. Spending in Asia jumped 9.2 per cent, while Western Europe increased 7.9 per cent. The US saw an increase of 5.3 per cent.
While increased security spending should be good news for vendors and solution providers, the latest NSA revelation does present a problem for all manufacturers: what systems do you trust when any device could come compromised out of the box?
Already, the Snowden leaks are causing a backlash against US vendors in Asia and parts of Europe. IBM and Cisco have reported declining revenues in important markets such as China, as businesses shy away from US technology suppliers. The latest reports could sap confidence in the security appliance market, costing vendors and solution providers in lost opportunities and sales.
As part of our special editorial partnership, CRN is publishing this story from Channelnomics.
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