Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Did China hardware-hack Supermicro servers used by Apple and Amazon?

Amazon logo Modal Trigger Shutterstock
Kelvin Reese | 05 October, 2018, 05:52

According to Bloomberg, the spy chips were designed for motherboards - the nerve centers for computer equipment - used in data centers operated by Apple, Amazon Web Services and others.

The Bloomberg News report said the chips, the size of a grain of rice, were used on equipment made for Amazon, which first alerted United States authorities, and Apple, and possibly for other companies and government agencies.

Super Micro Computer shares fell 38 percent to $13.26 in Pink Sheet trading.

Neither AWS, Super Micro nor the Chinese foreign ministry immediately responded to requests for further comment.

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. Bloomberg said its report was accurate.

Carrying out the attack involved "developing a deep understanding of a product's design, manipulating components at the factory, and ensuring that the doctored devices made it through the global logistics chain to the desired location", it said. Apple and AWS deny these moves involving Super Micro were related to chip worries.

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Apple said in a statement it had "never found malicious chips, "hardware manipulations" or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server".

Apple took Bloomberg to task, saying the agency had contacted it "multiple times with claims, sometimes vague and sometimes elaborate, of an alleged security incident". Apple said in a statement that "we have found absolutely no evidence to support any of" the allegations by Bloomberg Businessweek.

It added: "We have repeatedly and consistently offered factual responses, on the record, refuting virtually every aspect of Bloomberg's story relating to Apple".

Super Micro noted that it wasn't aware of "any investigation regarding this topic nor have we been contacted by any government agency in this regard". The Chinese government claimed to be "a resolute defender of cybersecurity" in statements to Bloomberg.

However, Bloomberg says the denials are in direct contrast to the testimony of six current and former national security officials, as well as confirmation by 17 anonymous sources which said the nature of the Supermicro compromise was accurate. 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. The report claims that the investigation into the attack is still ongoing today. We know that security is an endless race and that's why we constantly fortify our systems against increasingly sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals who want to steal our data. "That one-time event was determined to be accidental and not a targeted attack against Apple", the company wrote.

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