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Cisco: Good enough to be worth faking?

Counterfeit software is a high-profile issue but Cisco is finding that knock-offs are also a problem where it comes to network equipment
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

If something is of value somebody will rip it off: but while the IT industry is used to dealing with bogus software, it may not be as alert to fake routers and switches.

Cisco is finding that being the biggest network equipment supplier in the world makes it a natural target for those who want to make a quick buck from selling fake kit.

Not that the company wants to talk about the issue. When it comes to fraud, unlike the software suppliers, network companies know that there are not a lot of incidences of goods being copied and then sold as genuine. Or so it would appear.

A recent rare case where a company bought 50 apparently genuine Cisco 2811 routers, only to find that 30 of them were fakes, raised the profile of the issue. What was most unusual about this incident, as reported in Network World, was not that the routers had been fakes, but that the customer was prepared to talk about it. In the recent case, the network manager first noticed that there might be an issue as the routers began failing.

When contacted by ZDNet UK, a spokesman for Cisco admitted that the company was not too keen talking about the issue. However, Cisco released a statement.

In the statement, the networking giant was very keen to emphasis that bogus equipment was not unique to Cisco, although the number of stories in the media about this issue that concern Cisco would suggest that the company is the target of choice. Which leaves users the problem of trying to tell if their equipment is fake.

A story in June in the Sun Star of Manila, Philippines, indicated how difficult this could be. The police and other officials raided a number of premises and confiscated "router, switch and cables, boxes and plastic packaging bearing unauthorised reproductions of the trademarks and copyright owned by Cisco", the report said, indicating an attention to detail in reproducing fake equipment. Police said 134 "hardware units" were stolen in that raid.

"Counterfeiting is a global business issue that targets market leaders — especially high-demand products," Cisco continued. "Cisco has been actively addressing this issue for several years. Specifically, we have built a global team that specialises in counterfeiting and intellectual property, known as our Brand Protection team."

IT suppliers are very much aware of the issue. Cisco is a member of the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement, along with 3Com, Nortel and HP, among others. Its most recent meeting, held on 11 October, was hosted by Cisco and one of the main issues on the agenda was "Utilising Product Fingerprints to Protect Your Brand", an issue that is of great interest to companies trying to find a way to uniquely mark their products.

A posting that has now appeared on a number of websites also shows the possible scale of the problem, listing 48 separate pieces of equipment.

Cisco stressed that it considers its best allies as the strong arm of the law. "Our brand protection team works in collaboration with local law enforcement and government agencies," Cisco said. "We will pursue appropriate legal action, in order to combat the manufacturing, distribution or sales of counterfeit Cisco products."

It makes no mention of the role that its customers can play in keeping their eyes open for bogus equipment. While Microsoft is one company that will now talk about the problems of piracy and the role of the public in spotting fake and copied software, Cisco did not say anything on the subject.

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