China spying on Apple, Amazon and over 20 other companies

Posted October 05, 2018

Bloomberg claims that the chips were initially and independently discovered by Apple and Amazon in 2015 and that the companies reported their findings to the FBI, prompting an investigation that remains ongoing.

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. As for Super Micro, it denied that it introduced the chips during the manufacturing phase.

Apple responded as well.

Several servers were dispatched to Ontario, Canada, where testers found a tiny microchip that was not part of the motherboard's original design.

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It said the first information about the spying campaign had emerged during security testing carried out by Amazon in 2015 before it had started using servers from United States company Elemental, which had been manufactured by Super Micro Computer at plants in China. "Amazon reported the discovery to US authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community", the report continues.

Apple, AWS and Super Micro dispute the report. Apple and AWS deny these moves involving Super Micro were related to chip worries.

"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. It said it has never found any malicious chips, had not been informed that such chips were found by any customer, and never been contacted by government agencies on the matter. "Additionally, we have not engaged in an investigation with the government".

In a statement to Bloomberg Businessweek that was also provided to Fox News, Apple said that Bloomberg's reporting is "inaccurate" and the sources in the story might be "wrong or misinformed".

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"We are not aware of any customer dropping Super Micro as a supplier for this type of issue".

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".

However, Bloomberg says the denials are in direct contrast to the testimony of six current and former national security officials, as well as confirmation by 17 anonymous sources which said the nature of the Supermicro compromise was accurate. The report states that US investigators found that the tiny microchip was inserted during the manufacturing process by the People's Liberation Army.

The company instead suggested that Bloomberg's sources may have been mistaking an incident in 2016 when an accidental vulnerability was found on a single Super Micro server inside the company. "Over the course of the past year, Bloomberg has contacted us multiple times with claims.of an alleged security incident at Apple", the company said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

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