Dell and the NSA

While I was reading this blog about how NSA’s bad-BIOS malware probably works, I was struck by a “coincidence”: Dell does significant amount of government contracting work. In fact, Ed Snowden worked for Dell at one point. NSA’s bad-BIOS targets the RAID cards in Dell servers.

Now, Dell servers are widely deployed. I’ve used them in several jobs, for example. So it’s not unreasonable that NSA would target them, to get the best bang for the buck. But it also seems possible that in order to achieve the things Dell’s executives promised to NSA executives in fancy sales calls, some Dell engineers would find themselves using what they know about Dell servers to write bad-BIOS malware to attack those very servers.

Which made┬áme think about my company, Cisco. We publicly said we don’t put in backdoors. But we also have a big sales organization staffed with people with clearances who make special products for government organizations. It isn’t hard to imagine, especially with the revolving door between military, intelligence and defense contractors, that some of those people would find their allegiances split between intelligence people asking them for hints from the source code, and Cisco’s Code of Business Conduct.

As Bruce Schneier reminds us, once you start wondering if you can trust your suppliers, it is very hard to stop wondering.