Snowden: The NSA planted backdoors in Cisco products

'No Place to Hide,' the new book by Glenn Greenwald, says the NSA eavesdrops on 20 billion communications a day -- and planted bugs in Cisco equipment headed overseas

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Even before the revelation about the bugging of Cisco's routers and servers, the company warned that news of the NSA's spying had created "a level of uncertainty or concern" among foreign customers that was contributing to weaker than expected demand.

Cloud providers are feeling the same kind of blowback from their customers, and IBM is spending $1.2 billion to build more secure cloud data centers abroad in an attempt to placate nervous foreign customers.

The scoop that almost got away

Although the stolen documents have been dissected in voluminous media coverage over the past year, Greenwald's book adds many details, context, and a gripping, very human account of why Snowden choose to go rogue -- and how two major newspapers broke tradition and published depite strenuous objections of the White House.

Greenwald, a man not noted for his modesty, admits that he almost blew his chance to land the scoop of the decade because he was too lazy to install a security tool (PGP encryption) that Snowden insisted he use.

Frustrated, Snowden said to himself: "Here am I ready to risk my liberty, perhaps even my life, to hand this guy thousands of Top Secret documents from the nation's most secretive agency -- a leak that will produce dozens if not hundreds of huge journalistic scoops. And he can't even be bothered to install an encryption program,"  

Snowden, another man with a pretty big ego, modestly signed his initial emails to Greenwald as Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who in the fifth century BC was appointed dictator of Rome to defend the city against attack. "He is most remembered for what he did after vanquishing Rome's enemies: He immediately and voluntarily gave up political power and returned to farming life," writes Greenwald.

In later emails, Snowden called himself Verax, Latin for truthteller.

When Greenwald and his colleague, Laura Poitras, flew to Hong Kong to meet Snowden, they had no idea of what he looked like. Snowden arranged to meet them in a hotel restaurant and told them to be seated near a giant, plastic alligator. They'll know him, Snowden said, because he will walk by holding a Rubik's Cube in his hand.

What followed for Greenwald were 10 nearly sleepless days filled with nonstop interviews with Snowden, 4 a.m. cab rides, unending paranoia, and a knock-down, drag-out fight with his editors at The Guardian about when -- or even if -- the articles would be published.

They were, of course. And whether you think Greenwald is a hero, or a traitor, there's no doubt that his Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, along with that of journalists at The Washington Post and later The New York Times, have changed the national conversation about privacy.

No place to hide
I spent much of Tuesday speed-reading "No Place to Hide" and was left with very mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was utterly creeped out by the invasion of our privacy and felt like I wanted to disconnect my computer and my iPhone from the Internet. (In fact, that's how Greenwald avoided being spied upon.) But I am also encouraged by the storms of protest that followed Snowden's revelations and proud that members of my battered profession could be so brave and have such a huge impact.

Finally, it's worth noting where the title of the book comes from.

In 1975, Senator Frank Church, then chairman of a select committee on intelligence learned of what was, by today's standards, primitive and limited governmental eavesdropping. The United States government, he said, had perfected "a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air." That capability, he added, could at any time "be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide."

Prophetic words.

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This article, "Snowden: The NSA planted backdoors in Cisco products," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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