Apple, Amazon deny claims Chinese spies implanted backdoor chips in company hardware

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Chinese spies, using a tiny computer chip, managed to penetrate 30 top USA companies, including Amazon and Apple, Bloomberg Businessweek reported Thursday.

In the report, Bloomberg cites several government and company sources that claim AWS discovered the tiny spy chips on servers built for Portland-based Elemental Technologies by a company called Supermicro when the cloud giant was evaluating whether to purchase the startup, which it did in 2015. They were found in servers assembled by a Chinese company called Super Micro, and could've been subject to a secret United States government investigation that began in 2015.

Bloomberg quoted "three senior insiders" as saying they had also discovered the tiny chips, which Bloomberg said were much smaller than a penny and were created to transmit information back to China about the data flowing across the servers. Bloomberg claims Amazon discovered them ahead of its 2015 acquisition of Elemental Systems and reported the chips to the Federal Bureau of Investigation before removing them all within a one-month period.

Bloomberg said the retail-to-cloud computing company alerted U.S. authorities at the time, resulting in an inquiry and a string of firms cancelling Super Micro orders.

The article detailed a sweeping, years-long effort to install the surveillance chips in servers whose motherboards - the brains of the powerful computers - were assembled in China.

Many US companies, including Apple, Amazon and major banks, were also using Super Micro Computer hardware. Bloomberg's piece is titled "The Big Hack" for a good reason, as it involves microchips planted in servers destined for big U.S. companies, which stealthily hooked to the networks their carrier hardware was hooked to.

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Apple on Thursday morning referred The Washington Post to its statement in the Bloomberg Businessweek story alleging that the reporting was inaccurate. It's untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental. "We are deeply disappointed", Apple said, that Bloomberg did not consider that its sources "might be wrong or misinformed". Our best guess is that they are confusing their story with a previously reported 2016 incident in which we discovered an infected driver on a single Super Micro server in one of our labs.

Apple and Amazon have distanced themselves from claims that they were among USA companies targeted by the Chinese hackers.

The Chinese government has also denied the report. The targets, one said, were sensitive government networks and the secrets of big corporations.

Apple reportedly had 7,000 Super Micro servers operating inside the company, all of which may have been compromised.

"We hope parties make less gratuitous accusations and suspicions but conduct more constructive talk and collaboration so that we can work together in building a peaceful, safe, open, cooperative and orderly cyberspace", it wrote.

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