Cisco telecoms networking equipment provider
Cisco announced it would ship equipment to fake identities at vacant addresses to stop NSA tampering Reuters

Telecoms and networking equipment provider Cisco has announced that it will ship out boxes of equipment to empty houses in a bid to avoid the NSA intercepting its routers and installing backdoors in order to spy on companies.

At a panel discussion held at the CiscoLive 2015 conference in Melbourne, Australia on 19 March, Cisco's security chief John Stewart announced that Cisco will ship its equipment out to fake identities at vacant addresses for its most sensitive of customers, according to The Register.

In May 2014, Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who released secret NSA documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden, released the book No Place to Hide, which revealed that the NSA was planting hidden surveillance tools in Cisco routers built for export.

At the time, Cisco's CEO John Chambers wrote a letter to President Obama, warning him that trust in US technology had completely collapsed and asking for 'standards of conduct' to be put in place to rein in government surveillance.

Chambers' request was due to the fact that Cisco had been feeling the brunt of customer anxiety over security since its revenues in emerging markets such as China began to plummet in late 2013.

The fall in sales was the result of Snowden's revelations that Cisco, among other big tech firms, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple, had been required to turn over private information about citizens and companies to the NSA.

No bugs found in Cisco routers yet

Stewart told the audience at CiscoLive that Cisco had investigated its routers at length for possible bugs, but to date, had been unable to find anything conclusive as the firm has no idea what the spying tools might look like.

As such, the best way to confuse and avoid the spies is to change how the equipment is being delivered, since currently, many companies pick up their Cisco routers directly from distributors.

"We ship [boxes] to an address that's has nothing to do with the customer, and then you have no idea who ultimately it is going to," Stewart said.

"When customers are truly worried... it causes other issues to make [interception] more difficult in that [agencies] don't quite know where that router is going, so it's very hard to target - you'd have to target all of them. There is always going to be inherent risk."

Stewart does not believe that anything can truly guarantee protection against NSA spies, however.

"If you had a machine in an airtight area... I stop the controls by which I mitigate risk when I ship it," he said, adding that even though malicious tampering is possible, hardware technologies can still make it 'incredibly hard' for the perpetrators.

When contacted by IBTimes UK about Stewart's comments, Cisco said: "Security is a top priority for our customers, and Cisco is committed to providing our customers with trusted products and solutions – including through our supply chain and distribution."