According to a blockbuster report by Bloomberg, the Chinese government may have been gathering intellectual property and trade secrets from United States’ (US) tech giants, including Apple and Amazon Web Services (AWS), via a tiny microchip inserted into their data centre equipment. The chips may have been introduced by Super Micro, a Silicon Valley company that makes server parts in China. Apple and AWS denied the report, with the former saying that it did not find the chips. Super Micro denied any wrongdoing in their manufacturing processes.
A statement released by Apple stated that the company is “deeply disappointed” in Bloomberg’s dealings with the company and added that Bloomberg’s reporters did not consider that their sources might have been wrong or misinformed.
According to Bloomberg, the problem was discovered and confirmed by independent security investigators in 2015. The chips were said to be swiftly removed by Apple, who then had a fall out with Super Micro, after which a follow-up investigation involving several government agencies was conducted.
China seems to be the obvious suspect but a Chinese foreign ministry official said that, “China is a resolute defender of cybersecurity.”
Winter is Coming
The accusation is one in a long list of Chinese “offenses”, which Vice President Mike Pence said includes: “meddling in domestic US elections; doling out unfair subsidies to state-owned companies; forcing US companies to surrender technology as the price of competing in the Chinese market; mounting cyber-attacks on US companies and government agencies; recklessly confronting the US naval forces in the South China Sea; bullying Taiwan; and trampling the rights of its own citizens.”
The Chinese government criticised these accusations, calling them “ridiculous”, “malicious slander,” and created out of “thin air.”
Separately, the news comes as US tech giants including AWS, Oracle, and Microsoft vie for a US$10 billion defence cloud-computing contract with the Pentagon dubbed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). The revelation puts pressure on these companies to ensure that their systems are secure enough to protect the US’ military secrets.