Cisco CSO says security is growing up

Interview: CSO John Stewart admits Cisco made mistakes in suing a researcher for exposing router flaws three years ago at Black Hat

John Stewart doesn't talk like your typical corporate executive. He said that his company, Cisco Systems, has been lucky when it comes to security and that his company's Self-Defending Network marketing push has painted "a big bull's-eye" on its products.

But then again, Stewart has more important things to worry about. As chief security officer, he's the man responsible for directing Cisco corporate and business unit security practices. That means he gets the call whenever there's an important security bug in Cisco's products or if hackers were to hit the Web site. The way he puts it, it's his job to help lock down Cisco's products before he's forced to deal with what he calls "the burning platform" -- a serious flaw or attack against the most widely used routers on the Internet.

Maybe Cisco needs someone like Stewart, to steer clear of the mistakes that other major technology companies have made on security. Take Microsoft, for example. Microsoft first took a hostile attitude towards security researchers and critics, but that backfired and helped cement the impression that the company was ignoring security bugs rather than trying to fix them. Microsoft ultimately reversed its course, but not until its reputation took a serious hit.

On a smaller scale, Cisco has made a similar kind of reversal. The company angered hackers in 2005 by suing researcher Mike Lynn after he showed how it was possible to run unauthorized shellcode software on a Cisco router.

But instead of kicking off a new era of Cisco hacking, the Mike Lynn episode was more of an aberration. Cisco research was quiet for the next few years.

Stewart said that Cisco has been "a little lucky" in that it has not had major security flare-ups, but he's not taking anything for granted. He invited IDG News Service to his office to talk about the Cisco threat landscape. Following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Cisco got a lot of attention at Black Hat 2005. What's your take on things, three years later?

Part of the reason all the attention was painted on us at Black Hat three years ago is because we created a firestorm of, frankly all sorts of complicated issues, that felt like Cisco was suppressing communication and research.

I think arguably we did some silly things, like trying to put the genie back in the bottle, which you can't do. We were trying to do it for the right reasons: protection of intellectual property and our customers. But how it came out just completely went sideways.

And, in many respects, we did it anonymously. It was "a Cisco spokesperson." We sort of hid behind an anonymity context , which I think really goofed everything.

This is why I personally sponsored Black Hat at the platinum level ever since. Because I think we had some atonement to do and go, "Look, our bad. That was not the way to do that one."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments



Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?