In an ideal world, a scenario like this would be followed later, in calmer times, by someone procuring the proper support access, downloading a verified image, and replacing the questionable code. But I'd wager that only a small percentage of these situations have that outcome. Most times, the black market image will remain in perpetuity, especially if an outside consultant fixed the problem in this manner.
Of course, there are those poor, unfortunate souls who toil under management that refuses to spend money on silly things like support contracts, and they wind up running most of the core infrastructure on firmware they downloaded from a PirateBay tracker. They may have no other choice. When you give nontechnical management the choice between "free" downloads and a $100,000 annual support contract, caution and reason can get shoved aside.
There's also the gray market scenario. Clearly, vendors would prefer that you buy new gear from only them, but in many cases, you can get the same functionality from a used device off eBay for a tenth the cost. Again, the reward may outweigh the risk in this instance, but good luck getting a vendor support contract on that used device; many vendors require a recertification of the hardware that can cost nearly as much as a new unit. Think of it as a "tough love" gesture to make sure you keep buying the brand-new stuff.
There are certainly valid reasons that some vendors guard their firmware in this manner. Many, like Cisco, offer a variety of different features in different firmware revisions and want more money for those advanced features -- too bad they also throw the baby out with the bathwater with these restrictions. In many cases, the firmware that is needed is actually the same firmware that's already on the device, but has become corrupted or otherwise rendered unusable.
When budgets are tight and IT is under the gun to do a whole lot with just a little, going the gray/black market route is a viable option. If handled properly and with caution, it can result in a substantial cost savings without sacrificing any functionality or performance -- but only if you don't mind walking on the wild side.
This story, "Secondhand networks and back-alley firmware," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.