Published: Fri, October 05, 2018
Industry | By Faith Ward

China planted chips in Apple and Amazon servers, report claims

China planted chips in Apple and Amazon servers, report claims

Apple, which has since severed ties with Supermicro for what it says are unrelated reasons, says it has never found "malicious chips" in its products.

"Public documents, including the company's own promotional materials, show that the servers have been used inside Department of Defense data centers to process drone and surveillance-camera footage, on Navy warships to transmit feeds of airborne missions, and inside government buildings to enable secure videoconferencing", Bloomberg reports.

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

The unnamed USA officials who informed Bloomberg's piece said the chips made it possible to modify the operating systems running on those servers, giving spies a way to remotely contact and commandeer those computers.

The attack by Chinese spies reached nearly 30 USA companies by compromising America's technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with intelligence and corporate sources.

Many US companies, including Apple, Amazon and major banks, were also using Super Micro Computer hardware.

The report said Amazon discovered the problem when it acquired software firm Elemental and began a security review of equipment made for Elemental by California-based Supermicro. The report said that dozens of companies may have used sabotaged servers in their data centers before the Chinese operation was detected.

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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. This level of hardware hacking would be borderline unprecedented in scope, and Bloomberg claims the FBI opened an investigation (after the incident was reported by Apple) that's still in progress three years later.

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".

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

The company has denied the claims made in the extensive report by Bloomberg Businessweek, however, that hasn't stopped a share price onslaught.

Amazon also offloaded its physical server business in China a year ago, the alleged reasoning for which is just coming out now as being due to cybersecurity risks. Bloomberg, however, says it talked to 17 people who've confirmed the investigation into compromised Supermicro products. Apple never had any contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other agency about such an incident.

As you might expect, Apple has denied the incident.

"It's untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental", Amazon told Bloomberg.

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