When news broke out about Chinese spy chips on motherboards used in American businesses, the world was shocked that such a massive infiltration could happen on U.S. soil. A few weeks down the line and the companies said to have been affected by the Chinese spy chips are claiming the story was fake.
The Chinese spy chips
It was Bloomberg that had reported on the Chinese spy chips, claiming that in 2015, Chinese spies had somehow succeeded in embedding chips into Super Micro motherboards. Big corporations like Apple and data servers run by the Department of Defense were said to be using the motherboards. U.S. authorities were reportedly shocked at the finding and started a detailed investigation into the matter.
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“During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China,” according to Bloomberg.
Apple had apparently discovered spy chips around May 2015 and alerted the FBI without divulging too many details. But it was Amazon’s discovery of the chips and subsequent handing over of the sabotaged hardware that is said to have given U.S. intelligence agencies the required information to thoroughly investigate the issue. Though the story appears credible, there is a major problem — none of the “affected” companies have supported the story. In fact, many of them have denied the report outright.
A fabricated story?
Apple CEO Tim Cook dismissed the article and asked Bloomberg to retract it while the company’s official statement gave a rebuttal for every claim made in the report. “We take these allegations seriously and we want users to know that we do everything possible to safeguard the personal information they entrust to us. We also want them to know that what Bloomberg is reporting about Apple is inaccurate,” according to Apple. Executives from Amazon also backed Tim Cook’s call for retraction of the story.
Super Micro was the most affected by the Chinese spy chips report, with share prices plunging by almost 40 percent in a matter of hours after the story was published. “As we have said firmly, no one has shown us a motherboard containing any unauthorized hardware chip, we are not aware of any such unauthorized chip, and no government agency has alerted us to the existence of any unauthorized chip,” said Super Micro in a letter to customers quoted in The Register.
With three of the biggest affected companies denying the story, many are asking whether Bloomberg made a mistake or if some malicious groups fooled the news agency into reporting a fake story. The timing of the story is also interesting. Though the events are said to have occurred in 2015, Bloomberg only reported the story in 2018, at a time when both the U.S. and China are engaged in a full-blown trade war.
Some say that the intention behind the story may be to deepen the rift between the two countries by planting seeds of distrust and confusion. Unfortunately, Bloomberg has not revealed its sources. As such, no one has been able to verify claims made in the report.