Sharp Like a Pencil: Bloomberg Discovers Chinese Spying Chips in Apple & Amazon
Main page Analytics, US, Apple, China, Amazon

A special unit of the Chinese army has integrated small chips into computer servers that are used in the U.S. companies, including Apple and Amazon. With the help of this spying device, Beijing could at any time gain secret access to the computers and data, Bloomberg reports.

Small chips, the size of the tip of a well-sharpened pencil, are designed so that they cannot be detected without special tools. According to the publication, miniature chips were secretly built into the motherboards that were intended for servers of major American companies and government departments. They were installed at the production stage in China and activated already in the United States. Chips were developed by experts of the special division of computer attacks of the People’s Liberation Army of the PRC. By using these chips, hackers could access all the functions of servers, allowing them to manipulate equipment and steal data, communicate with other servers, and perform covert operations.

Sharp Like a Pencil: Bloomberg Discovers Chinese Spying Chips in Apple & Amazon
Scott Gelber for Bloomberg

American companies have acquired these Chinese-broken servers from Micro Computer, a company based in San Jose, California, that has a reputation of a Microsoft in the hardware world. In total, they were purchased by about 30 companies in the U.S., among which besides Amazon and Apple there are also a number of banks, hedge funds, and government contractors.

The attack was discovered in 2015 by the American intelligence. The U.S. intelligence agencies conducted a secret investigation and found the "infected" servers in the data centers of the U.S. Department of Defense and on board warships. About the same time, the experts from Amazon and Apple have also found out the malicious devices.

Amazon has discovered the presence of extraneous chips in the motherboards thanks to its subsidiary AWS while purchasing Elemental Technologies, which is engaged in video compression for streaming.

Apple bought about 7,000 servers infected with the Chinese chips. But the malicious equipment was discovered in time by the company's security service. However, according to the publication, the two most expensive firms in the world deny that they have ever bought motherboards with spyware chips in motherboards.

According to journalists, a large number of companies from the United States, including the Bloomberg L.P. itself, eventually abandoned the use of Super Micro Computer products.

“According to a Bloomberg L.P. spokesperson, the company has found no evidence to suggest that it has been affected by the hardware issues raised in the article,” states the publication.

Officially, Super Micro Computer, Amazon, and Apple have denied information about Chinese spyware chips. However, in informal conversations, Bloomberg writes, the interlocutors confirmed the whole story.

“We are deeply disappointed that in their dealings with us, Bloomberg’s reporters have not been open to the possibility that they or their 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. That one-time event was determined to be accidental and not a targeted attack against Apple.” - have stated in Apple.

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