With hardware, buyer beware

When buying hardware, be careful of what you buy ' the name on the label might not be the manufacturer of the product.

Earlier this year, the FBI announced the results of a two-year sting operation, named Operation Cisco Raider.

This undercover operation, completed with the cooperation of Cisco, targeted counterfeit operations in China and uncovered 3,500 counterfeit Cisco network routers, switches, network cards and other gear. The equipment would have been sold for about $3.5 million.

Some of the equipment was about to be sold to military services such as the Marine Corps and the Air Force, agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration, even the FBI itself.

Part of the problem was subcontracting, according to a FBI presentation that leaked onto the Web earlier this year. Agencies contracted with resellers that, in turn, contracted with other less-reputable resellers that provided specified gear at cheaper-thanmarket- rate prices. The cheaper gear, of course, was fake.

The FBI also singled out Cisco's refusal to sell products directly to the government, instead relying on partners, though this is a common practice of many large companies. Even the company's Gold/Silver partners sold fake equipment.

The FBI presentation showed that a counterfeit Cisco 1721 router could be obtained for $234, much less than the $1,375 list price at the time. But how a rogue manufacturer cut costs can soon become painfully obvious ' such as sloppy welding and improper configuration.

Knock-offs often have duplicate Media Access Control (MAC) numbers, which would make them virtually useless, if not outright damaging, on a large network. And, of course, the purchaser won't receive any support from the company on the nameplate.

Klein did say that the problem of fake gear is not isolated to Cisco. 'It is an industrywide problem,' he said.

So how can you avoid getting fooled? One suggestion is to know the company you are dealing with, said Joe Pucciarelli, the IDC program director for studying technology financing and management strategies. 'If you're buying from a third party you've never met, and it's not a face-to-face transaction, how do you reach any level of assurance of who you are dealing with?'

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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