Chinese spying microchips found in Apple, Amazon computers

Amazon logo

Amazon logo

We did not uncover any unusual vulnerabilities in the servers we purchased from Super Micro when we updated the firmware and software according to our standard procedures. Elemental's video-compressing servers were assembled by Californian company Supermicro, which in turn built its motherboards in China.

Bloomberg Businessweek says it received confirmation of the attack from 17 people including government intelligence officials, and employees of Amazon and Apple.

Both Apple and Amazon discovered the surveillance chips in 2015 and took steps to replace the affected servers, according to the report, which described close cooperation between US investigators and affected companies. Almost all the critical parts of a server are made and assembled in China or Taiwan, and China's espionage operation has targeted the tech industry before, such as in 2010 when hackers believed to be working on behalf of the Chinese government infiltrated Google.

"While we would cooperate with any government investigation, we are not aware of any investigation regarding this topic nor have we been contacted by any government agency in this regard", Super Micro's statement said.

The hardware implants were apparently first discovered by security testers doing due diligence on the systems of a video-compression firm called Elemental, ahead of its takeover by Amazon.

The report of Chinese hacking chips being systematically added to servers produced in China comes after Donald Trump's administration has placed tariffs on technology components being imported from China.

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.

Apple, however, says the report is bogus. Apple insiders, too, offered information regarding the hardware attack that Apple reportedly fell victim to.

Amazon also told CNBC that the company had on multiple occasions told Bloomberg "at no time, past or present, have we ever found any issues relating to modified hardware or malicious chips in Super Micro motherboards in any Elemental or Amazon systems".

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

Check out the full story and see the statements from the named companies here.

Supermicro said it was unaware of an investigation, while United States investigators, including the FBI, declined to comment. Apple never had any contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other agency about such an incident.

Bloomberg said a year-long investigation by reporters Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley had uncovered evidence of the wide-ranging attack, which gave Beijing access to 30 large companies and many federal agencies. Apple and AWS deny these moves involving Super Micro were related to chip worries. "China is a resolute defender of cybersecurity", the Chinese foreign ministry told Bloomberg.

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