China secretly inserted surveillance microchips into servers used by major technology companies, including Amazon and Apple, in an audacious military operation likely to further inflame trade tensions between the United States and its leading source of electronics components and products, Bloomberg Businessweek reported Thursday morning. A third-party test of Elemental's Super Micro-assembled servers turned up those tiny, malicious chips, a discovery Amazon reportedly shared with U.S. authorities at the time.
Amazon, in a statement published by Bloomberg, said: "We've found no evidence to support claims of malicious chips or hardware modifications".
California-based Supermicro, one of the world's largest suppliers of motherboards, assembled servers for Elemental, which sent some of the equipment to Ontario, Canada, for the security company to test, the news outlet reported. These motherboards have been used in servers by companies like Amazon and Apple as well by at least 28 other United States companies and organisations.
Apple on Thursday morning referred The Washington Post to its statement in the Bloomberg Businessweek story alleging that the reporting was inaccurate. Amazon says this never occurred, as modified hardware or malicious chips were never found in its servers. The report claims Amazon became aware of the attack during moves to purchase streaming video compression firm Elemental Technologies in 2015. "Apple never had any contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other agency about such an incident".
The report also quoted denial of the reporting by Amazon Web Services, a cloud-services subsidiary of Amazon, which in 2015 acquired a company, Elemental, whose servers reportedly were affected by the Chinese operation. Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro deny any knowledge of such an attack.
"We remain unaware of any such investigation", said Super Micro.
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In response to Bloomberg's latest version of the narrative, we present the following facts: Siri and Topsy never shared servers; Siri has never been deployed on servers sold to us by Super Micro; and Topsy data was limited to approximately 2,000 Super Micro servers, not 7,000.
The company instead suggested that Bloomberg's sources may have been mistaking an incident in 2016 when an accidental vulnerability was found on a single Super Micro server inside the company.
On Wednesday, the U.S. government warned that a hacking group known as cloudhopper - which cybersecurity firms have linked to the Chinese government - has launched attacks on technology service providers to steal data from their clients.
Introducing spy chips into the supply chain would be a significant feat.
Bloomberg says its report is a result of information from 17 people, including six current and former senior national security officials, two from Amazon Web Services, and three Apple insiders.