Cisco CEO Robbins: There are no backdoors in our products

Security has become a core value and a major business driver for Cisco. At Gartner Symposium, CEO Chuck Robbins explained what that means for IoT, open architecture, and the way it builds products.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief

Cisco's Chuck Robbins spoke at the Tuesday evening keynote at Gartner Symposium 2016 in Orlando.

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

Cisco recently changed its brand promise to: "We securely connect everything to make anything possible."

It was CEO Chuck Robbins that added "securely" to the sentence. He got pushback from his team, who worried that it might create difficult expectations and even legal exposure.

But, Robbins is betting on security as one of Cisco's core values as it navigates into an era of commodity hardware, ubiquitous software, and rising fears about malware, ransomware, and even cyberwarfare.

"Security needs to start in the network," said Robbins during his keynote at Gartner Symposium ITxpo on Tuesday in Orlando.

The greatest anxieties are gathering around the Internet of Things, which will connect tens of billions of new things to the internet in the years ahead. Gartner predicts that there will be over 25 billion IoT devices active by 2020--up from 3 billion in 2015.

SEE: Gartner's digital transformation, IT crystal ball for 2017: Reading between the lines

The scary part is that all kinds of new public infrastructure will be connected--from stoplights to bridges to water treatment facilities to nuclear power plants--and that will create lots of new risk. Unfortunately, 85% of IT professionals believe fewer than half of all IoT products are secure, according to an IOActive survey.

Since Cisco is one of the leading vendors in the emerging IoT tsunami, Robbins knows that trust is a critical factor with customers who want to reap IoT's benefits while exposing themselves to as little risk as possible.

As a result, the security team is now involved in virtually everything Cisco does--ever since Robbins added it to the brand promise. Security-by-design is the standard, he said.

But, the elephant in the room is that there have long been rumors that American technology companies have a special relationship with the US government--specifically the intelligence agencies--and allow them a secret security bypass. Chinese hardware giant Huawei has occasionally been accused of doing the same thing for Beijing.

Robbins stated flatly, "We don't provide backdoors. There is no special access to our products."

One of the Gartner analysts stated that China, Russia, and Brazil have recently indicated they will no longer buy foreign hardware and asked Robbins what that could mean for Cisco's bottom line.

Robbins indicated that the company still had strong businesses in all three countries. In fact, Cisco was the official networking and security provider of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. During the games, Cisco's security team worked with Rio to detect 40 million threats, block 23 million attacks, and stop 223 major DDoS attempts.

While Cisco is still known as a hardware company because of its 30-year legacy in making much of the infrastructure that runs corporate networks and the internet, Robbins said 85% of the cost of making its products goes to software and the company employs 23,000 software engineers and just a few thousand hardware engineer.

So, it's banking on a future based on open architecture and converged systems, with software and security baked in throughout the stack.

Of course, the company's traditional work of building parts of the infrastructure and ecosystem that runs the internet itself isn't going away anytime soon.

Robbins was quick to note, "Internet traffic is going to triple by 2020."

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