Apple, Amazon deny Bloomberg report about Chinese spy chips

Apple, Amazon deny Bloomberg report about Chinese spy chips

Lindsey Duncan
October 5, 2018

One unnamed U.S. official said the chips could modify the server's operating systems, letting spies control the computers remotely and access the information held on them.

Citing three internal sources, Bloomberg said Apple also discovered the malicious chips in motherboards supplied by Supermicro in 2015.

However, Bloomberg claimed its reportage was based on interviews with 17 people, including six current and former senior national security officials, two people inside Amazon Web Services, and three Apple insiders.

Apple has also denied the Bloomberg report.

The full statement, which is available here, added that Apple always inspects its servers before they are put into production and if it found anything suspicious, it would have alerted the authorities.

Over the course of the past year, Bloomberg has contacted us multiple times with claims, sometimes vague and sometimes elaborate, of an alleged security incident at Apple. Elemental's video-compressing servers were assembled by Californian company Supermicro, which in turn built its motherboards in China.

The operation saw a branch of China's armed forces, known as the People's Liberation Army, forcing Chinese manufacturers to insert chips the size of a grain of rice into US-designed servers during the equipment manufacturing process, the report claims.

The tech giant further stated that it was "accidental" and was not a "targeted attack against Apple".

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Back when it was still developing Prime Video, Amazon aimed to and later did acquire Elemental Technologies, a startup whose video-streaming software had already landed it a Central Intelligence Agency contract.

The report, published by Bloomberg Businessweek, alleges that groups affiliated with the Chinese government infiltrated factories supplying startup Supericro in order to attach the chips to the motherboards.

"Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks", it said in a statement.

Bloomberg quoted Super Micro as saying it was not aware of the issues described in the report. It said it had reviewed documents surrounding the acquisition of Elemental and the third-party security audit that Bloomberg reported led to the discovery of the chips, and "we've found no evidence to support claims of malicious chips or hardware modifications". Apple never had any contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other agency about such an incident.

Apple removed Super Micro servers in 2015 and cut ties with Super Micro the following year.

According to Bloomberg, the goal of the hack was not to gain consumer data, but rather to have "long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks".

Supermicro said it was unaware of an investigation, while U.S. investigators, including the FBI, declined to comment.

Apple denied it had ever found malicious chips.