Former Cisco engineer gets 2-year prison sentence for Webex hack

Cisco didn't seek restitution for $2.4M in restoration and customer service costs

Cisco Webex logo under a magnifying glass

Northern California District Court has handed former Cisco software engineer Sudhish Kasaba Ramesh a two-year prison sentence for deleting 16,000 Webex collaboration accounts.

From August 2016 to April 2018, Ramesh was part of Cisco's platform team, focusing on automation, access to data, and logging metrics. This gave him access to servers on Amazon Web Services (AWS) that ran Cisco's Webex Teams application, which customers use for video conferencing, video messaging, and file sharing.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Ramesh with intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization and recklessly causing damage on July 13, 2020. He pleaded guilty in San Jose, California on August 26. 

The plea agreement said Ramesh accessed Cisco's cloud infrastructure running on AWS on September 24, 2018. He logged in via a Google Cloud Project account and used his AWS key to delete 456 virtual machines running Webex Teams.

Deleting the virtual machines shut down over 16,000 Webex Teams accounts for up to two weeks, costing around $1.4 million in employee time to restore the damage. According to the DOJ announcement in August, Cisco refunded over $1 million to affected customers de to Ramesh’s actions.

The case leaves two questions unanswered: Why Ramesh did it, and why he left such an obvious trail? He didn't explain his actions in court.

Prosecutors said they were "perplexed" at how Ramesh, who is "a highly intelligent individual," could have left such an obvious trail for the FBI investigators who caught him. He didn't use a proxy to carry out the attack and chose to launch it from his work computer instead, which contained search records querying how to delete Amazon servers. His Google Cloud Project account was also registered under his name and paid for with his credit card.

The District Court sentenced Ramesh to a two-year stint in prison and a $15,000 fine. Cisco didn't seek restitution for the incident, but reports claim he was also fired from his job at personal lifestyle website Stitch Fix. Ramesh will begin his prison sentence on February 10, 2021.

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