Cisco denies global reputation hit from NSA revelations

Cisco's outgoing CEO John Chambers has said that the company's reputation is stronger than ever, despite claims that the NSA was tapping Cisco devices.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Cisco's outgoing CEO John Chambers has said that "rules of the road" need to be set for governments seeking to undertake surveillance operations while working with technology companies, as he rejected suggestions that the company's reputation has taken a hit globally.

John Chambers
(Image: Cisco)

Chambers last May wrote to US President Barack Obama following claims that the National Security Agency (NSA) had used "load stations" to implant spy beacons in servers and networking gear shipping from the US to particular customers.

Cisco at the time denied that it had worked with the government to weaken its products, but Chambers said that if the allegations were true, it would impair Cisco's position in the tech sector.

One year later, however, Chambers is talking down the impact of the Snowden revelations, despite a 19 percent revenue dip in China in Q2 earnings.

"[Incoming CEO Chuck Robbins] and I have been travelling the world together for almost two years, and to almost every country. Cisco's reputation and trust is probably at the very top of countries around the world in terms of Europe ... or in China or Asia," he told journalists in a Q&A session at Cisco Live on Tuesday.

"I don't think anyone doubts in terms of our integrity as a company, and, as I probably mentioned last year, even in Russia, they run their security systems in Moscow off of Cisco architecture."

On the issue of Russia, Chambers and Robbins did not directly discuss allegations that the company has previously denied that Cisco was allegedly booking hardware sales to banned Russian agencies to an agency not subject to the US government's sanction, but Robbins said that Cisco is ready to work with Russia when the political situation improves.

"I think the best way to think about it is any time there are challenges around the world ... the one thing we've always done is stay committed during challenging times," he said.

"Big customers and countries tend to remember when you do that. As those issues become resolved, we then accelerate our relationship again, and that's what we would expect to do in Russia."

Chambers indicated that the company's recent weakness in China possibly had more to do with the political situation than a business issue. He said that all governments are involved in surveillance, and it is vital to set down road rules.

"I still believe our government leaders need to come together with rules of the road, as almost every government in the world does do spying. That's not new; that's been true throughout history," he said.

"I think as a company, we come through this as we have always done. We're not perfect, but we're very transparent."

Chambers declined to reveal whether the Obama administration had responded to his letter.

Overall, the allegations of claims that the tech industry is working with the NSA to enable spying has been estimated to far exceed the initial estimated cost to the industry of $35 billion.

Disclosure: Josh Taylor travelled to San Diego as a guest of Cisco.

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