Tag Archives: cisco

Wikileaks’ CIA dump plugs massive Cisco security hole

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If you look into the core of the Internet or just in a typical corporate or institutional data center, you’ll see rack after rack loaded with switches, routers and other gear made by Cisco. A vulnerability in even one of their products can leave a lot of networks and data open to attack. So you might come to the conclusion that spotting that kind of flaw and fixing it as quickly as possible is matter of national security.

You’d be wrong.

It turns out that more than three hundred Cisco devices can be breached via a cracking technique used by the Central Intelligence Agency and revealed in a massive document dump by Wikileaks. Company researchers have concluded that

  • Malware exists that seems to target different types and families of Cisco devices, including multiple router and switches families.
  • The malware, once installed on a Cisco device, seem to provide a range of capabilities: data collection, data exfiltration, command execution with administrative privileges (and without any logging of such commands ever been executed), HTML traffic redirection, manipulation and modification (insertion of HTML code on web pages), DNS poisoning, covert tunneling and others.
  • The authors have spent a significant amount of time making sure the tools, once installed, attempt to remain hidden from detection and forensic analysis on the device itself.
  • It would also seem the malware author spends a significant amount of resources on quality assurance testing – in order, it seems, to make sure that once installed the malware will not cause the device to crash or misbehave.

There’s a quick way to block it – disable telnet, an ancient and insecure communications protocol – but a permanent fix has yet to be released.

Generally, there are two ways the CIA could have obtained this exploit: either it was developed internally or it was purchased on the black market. If the former, it could have been duplicated by anyone with sufficient skill. If the latter, it means the CIA knew that broad swathes of the world’s IT infrastructure was exposed to anyone with deep enough pockets. In either case, its first duty should have been to plug the hole, and not sit on it until its own firewall was breached.

Supreme Court considering whether it’s a good idea to open up a new feeding ground for patent trolls

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Looks like one of those divided infringements. Let’s eat it.

The U.S. Supreme Court finished its current session this week with a flurry of action, momentous and otherwise. Lost in the fireworks generated by rulings on gay rights, racial preferences and voting rules though, was its decision to take a look at an intellectual property case that, depending on where it eventually goes, could create a vast new opportunity for patent trolls and trial lawyers to line their pockets.

The case in question is Akamai Technologies Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc.. In it, a federal appeals court ruled that Akamai could sue Limelight, a competing content delivery network, for infringing its patents, even though Limelight didn’t completely duplicate Akamai’s protected methods. What Limelight did was use some, but not all, of the same technical steps as Akamai, which would otherwise be allowed, and then told its customers what they needed to do to complete the process. The appeals court said, in effect, it was the same as Limelight duplicating the entire method itself.

Suppose an inventor developed a system for doing something using steps A-B-C-D. Taken individually, each step is common knowledge and can be freely used by anyone. But the inventor was the first to string all four together in that order for a particular purpose. The process that uses those steps in that order, in that way can be patented. A competitor can come along and use, say, steps A-B-C-E if it wants, but can’t use A-B-C-D without permission.

In essence, Limelight used steps A-B-C and then told its customers that they had to do step D themselves if they wanted to achieve the same result as Akamai’s CDN process. Until the lower court ruling, that was legal.

A long list of major technology companies, including Google, Oracle, HTC, Cisco, Red Hat and SAP, as well as lobbyists for the mobile phone industry, urged the supreme court to review and, they hope, overturn that decision…

High technology companies…provide products and services that can be used in an almost infinite combination of ways by other companies and consumers. While the market’s evolution toward specialized, complementary provision of components by numerous, separate suppliers has resulted in substantial gains for consumers (e.g., smartphones that provide mobile telephony, Internet browsing, geographic services, and access to hundreds of thousands of applications at the tap of a finger), it makes technology companies particularly vulnerable to divided infringement claims.

A “divided infringement claim” would allow a patent troll to find one company doing steps A-B and another doing C-D, and sue the hell out of both of them.

The supreme court hasn’t completely decided to review the case. Instead, it bucked it over to the solicitor general, one of the top attorneys in the justice department, for his opinion. We’ll hear more about it during the supreme court’s next session, which starts in October.

Building on a broadband lead

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Blocking strategy.

Akamai, a leading content delivery network provider, publishes periodic performance reports that ranks global Internet service by country. Its latest figures put Korea, Japan and Hong Kong at the top of the chart.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. The Akamai numbers show how fast traffic is moving on its network, not how much of it there is. So having, say, super fast connections in gaming centers and clusters of homes with gigabit class connections can skew the rankings.

The top three countries have a high proportion of people living in large apartment blocks concentrated in core urban areas (albeit very big cores – Seoul and Tokyo are immense). Which makes modern fiber deployments relatively cheap on a per household basis. Doesn’t mean the people living in buildings along the route all subscribe, although many do and that pulls average speeds up in Asia.

Despite lower population densities, North America still leads on a per capita consumption basis, and is expected to do so for some years to come, at least according to Cisco’s projections. 50 year old coaxial cables and 100 year old telephone wires are there and are well used, albeit not at gigabit speeds. Compared to world population as a whole – rural and urban – the state of the Internet in North America looks a lot better than many critics believe.

That’s not to advocate relying on ageing plant going forward. As wireline incumbents pull back on rural service, focus capital in “high potential” urban markets and try to exploit monopoly/duopoly positions for as long as possible, North American advantages will quickly fade. It’s no cause for panic, but it’s good justification for independent and broadband investments, public and private, based on realistic and rigorous financial criteria.

Don’t predict African broadband growth with consensus and conventional wisdom

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African traffic coming thicker and faster.

Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) shows global data traffic tripling over the next five years, growing to a level of 121,000 petabytes per month. North America and the Asia-Pacific region are the the big hitters, then and now, each accounting for roughly a third of total Internet traffic. Africa and the Middle East, on the other hand, barely registers. The report projects faster growth there, but even so that region’s share of global data movement will only go from about 2% of the total to 3%.

The VNI is a mash up of projections from many different sources, as well as data collected by Cisco. It’s a good technique for finding a consensus view of future trends when change is incremental, even if it is rapid. But since it favors conventional wisdom over intuition and insight, it’s not a very good way to get a handle on growth prospects in markets where relatively small initiatives can create significant disruption. That’s why I think it’s understating the growth prospects for Internet traffic in Africa.

Mobile networks are healthy and expanding in both scope and capacity; fixed wireless trials, including some led by Google, are likely to lead to a burst of broadband adoption, particularly in urban areas. Submarine cable projects are weaving a fiber necklace around the continent. When the two biggest limiting factors – affordable international back haul and reliable last mile networks – are removed, the result will be localised explosions in broadband uptake and usage. Not unlike what happened ten to fifteen years ago in the developed work as DSL, cable modem and fiber service replaced dial-up access in local market after local market.

Africa’s share of world population is 15% and growing. It’ll take more than five years to get to where it accounts for a comparable level of global Internet traffic, but not fifty years or more, which is what Cisco’s forecast implies. A jump to something more like 5% in five years would see the continent pull more or less even with the rest of the world within a generation. That’s doable and, I believe, likely.

Internet video won’t flourish in a walled garden

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Source: Cisco VNI 2012-2017

By 2017 Internet protocol video traffic will triple worldwide, according to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index (VNI). It’s an annual estimate of how Internet and Internet protocol traffic will grow over the coming five years.

IP video traffic totalled 24,000 petabytes a month during 2012 and is projected to grow to 76,000 petabytes a month in 2017.

The share of Internet protocol video delivered inside a walled garden will gradually decline, although like everything else it will continue to increase in absolute terms. In 2012, Cisco estimates that video delivered to subscribers directly from their service providers accounts for 37% of IP video consumption. But by 2017, that figure will drop to 30%.

The study does not predict much of a shift towards over-the-top Internet video delivery to television sets, however. By Cisco’s reckoning, 6% of IP video went over the public Internet to television sets, a number that’s expected to climb to 9% in five years.

The biggest relative growth will come from people watching video on other types of devices – computers, tablets, phones and everything else except televisions – via the Internet. That type of usage is expected to grow from 57% of total IP video traffic in 2012 to 61% in 2017.

Cisco’s VNI is a mash up of data collected from various sources and projections developed by several research houses. To a certain extent, it’s a consensus view of where Internet/Internet protocol traffic patterns are headed.

I don’t think it’s getting the TV/non-TV split right, but it’s becoming largely a matter of semantics. It’ll matter less five years down the line as the innards of various kinds of devices start to look more and more alike.

WiFi has huge role in mobile capacity management

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There’s a reason Cisco bought Meraki.

Four times as much traffic goes via WiFi as on mobile data connections, when users’ Android smart phones and tablets have the capability to do both. A recent mobile data study by Cisco showed that, worldwide, the average Android owner sent 55.4 MB of data on WiFi connections and only 13.9 MB via mobile data networks on the average day in December 2012.

Cisco’s conclusion is that tablet and smart phone customers are using WiFi as a way of “staying within the limits of their cellular data plans”. Another research thread showed that the global move by carriers to tiered pricing is having an impact on mobile data traffic patterns.

Only Android devices were considered in the research because it’s being crowdsourced. Cisco has convinced 12,000 users across six global regions to install an app on their Android devices that tracks data usage and reports back. It’s an ongoing project, with results tabulated on a monthly basis. If you want to participate, you can download the app here.

Overall, though, the same pattern is appearing. Mobile users are offloading traffic onto WiFi networks and femtocells, slowing the annual growth rate of worldwide traffic from an estimated 74% to 66% over the next five years.

It’s a good trend for consumers and mobile carriers alike. The more traffic that can be sent via lower cost networks – purpose-built WiFi offload access points, hotspots and WiFi hops to residential and commercial wireline connections – the lower everyone’s cost of doing business becomes. Carriers will still invest in new infrastructure and spectrum because mobile data traffic is booming regardless. But anything that helps relieve the capacity crunch will push monthly subscription prices down, meaning more people will be able to afford and use mobile devices, leading to more revenue for carriers in the long run.

Mobile data caps starting to shift costs to heavier users

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The whales don’t stand out as much anymore.

Three years ago, unlimited data plans accounted for 81% of monthly mobile subscriptions worldwide. Now, only 45% are unlimited, according to research conducted by Cisco.

With or without monthly caps, the growth in mobile data traffic is booming, but Cisco’s white papers shows a change in usage patterns corresponding to this business model shift.

Unlimited plans still generate more traffic per user, with an average of 1.3 GB per month versus 922 MB for tiered subscribers. As more people move to restricted plans, however, differences amongst users flatten out. The top one percent of mobile data customers accounted for 52% of global traffic three years ago, but now they only gobble up 16%. One of the primary goals of usage restrictions is to throttle back the heaviest of the heavy, and it seems to be working. Cisco’s research also pointed to efforts by carriers to soften the impact:

Mobile data caps that fall too far behind usage volumes may create opportunities for competitors in the market. Therefore, many service providers are creating more nuanced tiers and data add- ons, such as a separate charge for tethering and hotspot functionality.

Caps don’t keep people from using more data, though. Over three years, the amount of traffic generated by the average tiered plan customer grew 117%, going from 425 MB per month to 922 MB. Unlimited subscribers still chew up more data, going from an average of 738 MB to 1.3 GN per month, but it’s a slower rate of growth – 71%.

What that tells me is that heavy users are still willing to pay the premium for unlimited access when it’s available, but they’re shifting to plans with some degree of usage based pricing. When they do, they pay more attention, which shows up as a lower monthly average. But they’re still using more bandwidth than the sort of customers who have been on capped plans all along, which drives up the rate of growth.

Overall, it looks like mobile carriers are succeeding in matching subscriber revenue more closely to the cost of providing services.

Health care driving mobile M2M traffic

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Bits keep you fit.

Some time this year, we’ll hit the point where there are more connected devices on mobile networks than there are people on the planet. That doesn’t mean everyone everywhere will have a smartphone. A lot of people have more than one device, of course. And a growing share of those connections don’t involve human beings at all.

According to a report on worldwide mobile data traffic just released by Cisco, 369 million machine-to-machine (M2M) devices accounted for 3% of global traffic last year. By 2017, the total will climb to 1.7 billion and generate 5% of mobile data traffic around the world, an annual traffic growth rate of 89%.

Health care is the fastest growing segment of the M2M data market. Cisco’s prediction is that it’ll grow 74% per year for the next five years, driven by bandwidth intensive applications deployed to hospitals as well as directly with patients.

Equipment manufacturers are even more bullish in their predictions. Qualcomm, in particular, aims to drive growth in M2M chip sales by providing support to health care related ventures. Either way, though, it’s a huge new market for both hardware and services, with the number of devices in use growing 36% per year for the next five years, according to Cisco’s forecast.

Overall, M2M products are becoming more sophisticated, with the average device generating 64 Mbps per month in mobile traffic, a figured expected to grow to 330 Mbps in 2017. Asia will generate the highest volume of traffic by then, but Europe is predicted to have the fastest rate of growth.

Cisco forecasts booming mobile traffic

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WiFi, femtocells supporting mobile data growth.

A third of mobile data traffic isn’t really mobile. It’s offloaded onto WiFi networks and femtocells, most commonly when consumers use their mobile devices at home.

That’s just one of many fascinating findings in Cisco’s latest report on global mobile data traffic. No surprise: it’s growing at a rapid rate, increasing 70% worldwide in 2012. If it weren’t for offloading onto fixed networks, last year’s increase would have been 96%, assuming mobile carriers could have handled the load. Cisco is predicting that offloaded mobile traffic will grow from 33% to 46% of the total by 2017.

The total is expected to be thirteen times higher by then, the result of a forecasted 66% annual growth rate over the next five years.

Average global connection speeds are climbing. Last year’s average of 526 Kbps was more than double the 248 Kbps rate in 2011. And it’s expected to increase by a factor of seven, hitting the 1 Mbps mark by 2014 and climbing to 3.9 Mbps in 2017. Tablets have the fastest connection speeds, averaging 3.7 Mbps last year, with the expectation of growing to 11.7 Mbps over the same period.

Mobile traffic in 2012 (885 petabytes) was twelve times the total amount of data shipped on the entire Internet in 2000, wired and unwired (75 petabytes). More than half of last year’s mobile traffic – 51% – was video, a share Cisco expects to grow to 67% by 2017.

4G networks are having a huge impact. Although fewer than 1% of mobile data connections were via 4G networks last year, those accounted for 14% of total traffic. It’s predicted to grow to 45% in five years.

Three things you won’t see at CES 2013

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Rocking with Jonney.

No computer companies. Ten years ago, they were the stars of the show. The final keynote by Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer last year marked the end of their run. (Apple was so far ahead of the curve they stopped showing up before they stopped being a computer company).

I’ll miss ASUS’s Jonney Shih and even Intel’s Paul Otellini. They had interesting ideas to share, and said it well. On the other hand, some won’t be missed. Ballmer’s snarling product demonstrations and Cisco CEO John Chambers’ autistic self promotion performances were embarrassing to sit through.

Second, consumer friendly home automation products and systems won’t appear. I hope I’m wrong. I had such great hopes for it last year, thinking at the time that service providers like mobile telecoms companies and cable operators would finally muscle into the business. Not so. It’s still a fragmented sector crammed with incompatible and, frequently, incomprehensible products.

The third thing you won’t see at the Consumer Electronics Show is, well, a consumer electronics show. Or so the Consumer Electronics Association, the organizers, are telling us…

Note to Editors: The official name of the global technology event is “International CES.” Subsequent references to the show can be shortened to “CES.” Please do not use “Consumer Electronics Show” to refer to the International CES.

I don’t know when this name change happened. It might have been a while ago and it didn’t register – some things tend to get caught in my mental spam filter. Particularly when it has corporate brain trust written all over it.

To be fair, it makes a certain amount of sense for CES. With specialized consumer electronics retailers dying out, the show is less and less about filling distribution channels and increasingly about showcasing products, of any kind, in order to drive demand directly.

On with the show.