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Chinese spying microchips found in Apple, Amazon computers

04 October 2018

The report claims the chips were inserted while the servers were being manufactured in factories in China.

On Wednesday, the USA 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.

The chips were reportedly built to be as inconspicuous as possible and to mimic signal conditioning couplers.

Apple, AWS, Super Micro and China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs have disputed the report, which cites anonymous government and corporate sources, as previously noted by CNBC.

The report of Chinese hacking chips being systematically added to servers produced in China comes after Donald Trump's administration has placed tariffs on technology components being imported from China.

Apple - which tends to refrain from issuing direct responses to specific reports - has taken the unorthodox step of categorically denying Bloomberg's revelations. These motherboards have been used in servers by companies like Amazon and Apple as well by at least 28 other USA companies and organisations.

Bloomberg claims the probe led to some companies removing servers made by Super Micro and ending business relationships with the company.

"It's untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental", Amazon told Bloomberg. "Apple never had any contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other agency about such an incident", the company said in a statement provided to Bloomberg. "It's also untrue that AWS knew about servers containing malicious chips or modifications in data centers based in China, or that AWS worked with the FBI to investigate or provide data about malicious hardware".

"On this, we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, "hardware manipulations" or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server", the tech giant says.

Apple added that it had repeatedly provided on the record facts to refute "virtually every aspect of Bloomberg's story relating to Apple". In a statement to CNBC, Apple said it found a single infected driver on one Super Micro server in a lab, calling it a one-time event.

The details of the Chinese spy chips could worsen the US/China trade war, cause a surge in hardware prices, and open up new job markets in other countries.

"One official says investigators found that it eventually affected nearly 30 companies, including a major bank, government contractors, and the world's most valuable company, Apple", write Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley.

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. The FBI declined to comment for the story.

Chinese spying microchips found in Apple, Amazon computers