Apple, Amazon deny report that Chinese spy chips infiltrated their hardware

Adjust Comment Print

According to officials cited in the report, some 30 companies were affected.

The computer chips, Bloomberg explained, enabled spies linked to the People's Liberation Army - a unit of the Chinese forces - to create a "stealth doorway" into computer equipment through hardware - more hard to detect than a software hack.

In 2015, Amazon began evaluating a video software startup called Elemental Technologies as part of its plan to expand its streaming service now called Amazon Prime Video, according to Bloomberg.

A source close to the matter said that Amazon Web Services (AWS) scrutinized the firm ahead of the purchase, which "uncovered troubling issues".

The tiny chips, as small as the tip of a sharpened pencil and created to be undetectable without specialist equipment, were implanted on to the motherboards of servers on the production line in China, the report in Bloomberg Businessweek said. Elemental's servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA's drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. They were disguised as another type of component known as a signal conditioning coupler. That one-time event was determined to be accidental and not a targeted attack against Apple. "And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers". The news report says that it was inserted in motherboards when they were manufactured in Chinese factories.

Amazon subsidiary Amazon Web Services, which provides on-demand cloud computing platforms, was described in the Bloomberg story as having known about the malicious chips and working with the FBI to investigate the matter.

Wife of former Malaysian PM Najib charged with money laundering
It was the third time she was interrogated by the MACC as part of its probe into SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1MDB. Rosmah Mansor, wife of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak , arrives in court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday.

Amazon, in a statement published by Bloomberg, said: "We've found no evidence to support claims of malicious chips or hardware modifications".

Apple said it had refuted "virtually every aspect" of the story in on-record responses to Bloomberg.

"On this, we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, "hardware manipulations" or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server", the tech giant says. Apple never had any contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other agency about such an incident. It was this incident which may have led to the severed business relationship back in 2016, rather than the discovery of malicious chips or a widespread supply chain attack.

Bloomberg, however, states that six current and former national security officials have detailed discovering such chips and the investigation that followed.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country is a "resolute defender of cybersecurity", and while "supply chain safety in cyberspace is an issue of common concern [.] China is also a victim". In all, 17 people confirmed the manipulation of Supermicro's hardware and other elements of the attacks.