China used tiny chips on US computers to steal secrets: report

Published: October 4, 2018
Chinese spies reportedly used tiny chips in computer equipment in data centers to steal US corporate secrets. PHOTO AFP

Chinese spies reportedly used tiny chips in computer equipment in data centers to steal US corporate secrets. PHOTO AFP

WASHINGTON: Tiny chips inserted in US computer equipment manufactured in China were used as part of a vast effort by Beijing to steal US technology secrets, a published report said Thursday.

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

Bloomberg said a three-year secret investigation, which remains open, enabled spies to create a “stealth doorway” into computer equipment, a hardware-based entry that would be more effective and harder to detect than a software hack.

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Citing unnamed US officials, Bloomberg said a unit of the People’s Liberation Army were involved the operation that placed the chips on equipment manufactured in China for US-based Super Micro Computer Inc.

Supermicro, according to Bloomberg, also manufactured equipment for Department of Defense data centres, the CIA’s drone operations, and onboard networks of Navy warships.

The report said Amazon discovered the problem when it acquired software firm Elemental and began a security review of equipment made for Elemental by California-based Supermicro.

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

Apple said in a statement it “has never found malicious chips, ‘hardware manipulations’ or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server.”

A statement by Amazon to AFP said that “at no time, past or present, have we ever found any issues relating to modified hardware or malicious chips in Supermicro motherboards in any Elemental or Amazon systems.‎”

Supermicro could not immediately be reached for comment, but Bloomberg said the firm denied any knowledge of the espionage or investigation.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • vext
    Oct 4, 2018 - 8:46PM

    If USA requires it’s businesses to use non Chinese chips that will result in plenty of unemployed Chinese. Recommend

  • audifan
    Oct 5, 2018 - 12:02AM

    When this get published in America newspapers it’s’ going to be a BFD an likely set back China/USA relations by 20 years. Trump may demand independent inspection of every Chinese high tech product which may coerce USA companies to switch suppliers. It’s a tsunami – doesn’t appear large on the surface but it moves fast and creates enormous damage. Recommend

  • upset
    Oct 5, 2018 - 12:49AM

    USA should require its business to make security checks of all Chinese technology (expensive) which might induce USA buyers to move production facilities to Mexico which would benefit Mexico and maybe reduce immigration issues. Win-win-lose … USA/Mexico winning and China losingRecommend

  • cuban
    Oct 5, 2018 - 4:22AM

    Both Apple and Amazon have disputed this report.Recommend

  • bogus
    Oct 5, 2018 - 6:46AM

    Amazon and Apple both say this AFP article is rubbish. Maybe ET should upgrade to Reuters or some other agency where the journalist actually pick up the phone and try and double check info?Recommend

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