September 22, 2023


The Internet Generation

The Anatomy of a Cisco Counterfeit Shows Its Dangerous Potential

When an I.T. organization questioned Finnish cybersecurity business F-Secure to analyze some of its devices very last tumble, the customer was not apprehensive about a new malware an infection or new breach. As an alternative, it had found out that some of its core Cisco devices—the types liable for routing details as it zipped by way of its inside network—were counterfeits that had been lurking undetected in its infrastructure for weeks.

Faux Cisco devices are fairly widespread, mainly mainly because of the company’s ubiquity. Cisco has a entire brand-safety division dedicated to operating with legislation enforcement, and it offers tools that help clients validate the legitimacy of their devices. Continue to, bogus Cisco products and solutions are pervasive, and they are massive business for scammers.

A thorough teardown of counterfeits, although, is a special chance for researchers to have an understanding of how they could be compromised for electronic assaults. The units F-Secure analyzed posed as Cisco Catalyst 2960-X Sequence switches—trusted devices that connect desktops on an inside community to route details amongst them. In this circumstance, it seems the fakes had been produced only for revenue. But the privileged community posture they hold could have been exploited to position a so-referred to as backdoor to allow attackers steal details or spread malware.

“It is like when you have a fake Rolex these days—unless you basically open it and look at the movement, it is genuinely difficult to inform,” says Andrea Barisani, head of hardware safety at F-Secure.

Cisco encourages clients to obtain devices from the organization alone or licensed resellers. In apply, although, procurement chains can balloon in the open market, and community devices distributors can inadvertently close up with counterfeits.

The fake switches the researchers analyzed had worked generally till a plan application update primarily bricked them, tipping off the F-Secure customer that one thing was amiss. In their investigation, the F-Secure researchers discovered delicate beauty distinctions amongst the counterfeit devices and a legitimate Cisco 2960-X Sequence change employed for reference. Compact labels, like numbers up coming to ethernet ports, had been misaligned, and the fake devices had been lacking a holographic sticker Cisco places on the actual units. F-Secure points out that some forgeries have this sticker, but devices that you should not are almost certainly fake.

“Counterfeit products and solutions pose significant risks to community good quality, performance, protection, and reliability,” a Cisco spokesperson reported in a statement. “To protect our clients, Cisco actively screens the world counterfeit market as perfectly as implements a holistic and pervasive Price Chain Safety Architecture comprised of different safety controls to protect against counterfeiting.”

The F-Secure team discovered some little distinctions and indications of tampering on the devices’ circuitboards on their own, but there was a specific divergence that stood out right away. A single of the counterfeit devices had a pretty apparent extra memory chip on the board. Following extra investigation, the researchers understood that the other sample counterfeit their customer had despatched had a extra delicate and advanced variation of that modification to reach the similar aim. By electronic forensic investigation, F-Secure found out that the two variations of the hack exploited a bodily flaw in the switch’s layout to bypass Cisco’s integrity checks. The goal was to bypass Cisco’s Secure Boot characteristic, which stops a system from booting up if it has been compromised or is not respectable.

“What we know is that an authentication mechanism is executed in the main software that is equipped to detect that the application is functioning on counterfeit hardware,” says Dmitry Janushkevich, a senior hardware safety marketing consultant at F-Secure who led the study. “Likely, the counterfeiters both had been not equipped to figure it out or the authentication technique was excellent plenty of so they could not function about, obtain, or forge that component. Usually they would be equipped to deliver a perfect clone. Consequently, they selected the only selection remaining, which is bypassing Secure Boot.”

The workaround isn’t going to fairly produce the perfect clone both, mainly because the Cisco application functioning on the switches—real, but pirated Cisco code—still needed to be “patched in memory,” or manipulated at the time the system was tricked into booting up to make everything appropriate and pass Cisco’s application integrity checks. Technically this indicates that the changes to the system were not “persistent,” mainly because they needed to operate all over again, as if for the to start with time, with each reboot of the system. In apply, although, the workarounds had been successful—at least till Cisco pushed an update that inadvertently rendered the counterfeits inoperable.