WHEN Cisco recently updated the firmware for three of its Wi-Fi routers it should probably have thought about users’ reaction. On the next attempt to configure the device, they were presented with an unfamiliar screen and a service that required registration to continue using it. The Cisco Connect Cloud thus insinuated itself into homes.
Most people rarely need to fiddle with router settings after the initial configuration. Every now and again a user will access the router to update the information needed by the device to run smoothly, or to fiddle with security and filtering settings to block offspring from accessing insalubrious sites or to change the home network’s passwords.
The Cisco Connect Cloud service has some advantages, even for more sophisticated users who may need to twiddle more often. Instead of requiring a user to be connected via a cable or Wi-Fi to the router, the service allows reconfiguring the physical device anywhere on the internet. This has been possible with gateways made by many manufacturers for years, but usually requires complicated tweaks that do not always work. (Apple is the exception, with a remote-access system called “Back to My Mac” for sharing the screen and files of Macintoshes outside of a local network.)
But to see a screen denying access to a router’s administrative interface came as a shock to perennial fiddlers. (Those who had disabled an automatic software update feature and had not installed the new firmware were spared.) Even more egregiously, Cisco’s terms of service implied that the firm was monitoring traffic actively, so as to shut down illegal activities and, bizarrely, some legal ones (using the service for “obscene, pornographic, or offensive purposes”, for instance).
The response from many corners of the internet was quick and fierce, particularly in reaction to the potential monitoring of internet usage. Articles appeared nearly as fast explaining how to bypass the update or revert to older firmware, and so escape the cloud’s clutches.
In a matter of two days Cisco crashed from its cloud castle back down to earth—and taught a valuable lesson to other firms about not to implement changes. The cloud service would be an option, not the default, the company now said, and routers would automatically be switched back to local configuration. The terms of service were changed to remove any notion that connections were under surveillance, and in a blog post addressing that and many other issues, a Cisco executive explicitly disclaimed tracking and monitoring. The firm also said it was sorry. Twice.
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