Apple strongly refutes report that it found Chinese ‘spy’ chips in iCloud servers

Bloomberg has today published a report claiming that companies including Amazon and Apple found Chinese surveillance chips in their server hardware contracted from Super Micro. Bloomberg claims Apple found these chips on its server motherboards in 2015. Apple is strongly refuting this report, sending out press statements to several publications, not just Bloomberg.

In a statement to CNBC, Apple said ‘we are deeply disappointed that in their dealings with us, Bloomberg’s reporters have not been open to the possibility that they or their sources might be wrong or misinformed.’.

Apple ended its relationship with Supermicro in 2016. Apple told CNBC that it only ever found an infected driver on a single Super Micro server in a lab. Apple said this was a one time event and not considered to be a targeted attack. This incident had been reported last year by The Information.

The Bloomberg report says Apple discovered the chips around May 2015 and quietly informed the FBI. Later, Amazon independently discovered the chip, and also reported it to US authorities. The chips supposedly found in Super Micro hardware are suspected to have been added by the Chinese government to help spy on US companies and their users, essentially a ‘hardware hack’ into critical systems.

Bloomberg says there is an ongoing top-secret investigation, three years after the initial discovery. The same report includes comments of denial from both Amazon and Apple.

Here’s the full comment Apple gave to CNBC:

Apple has issued strong denials of the report, stating: “We are deeply disappointed that in their dealings with us, Bloomberg’s reporters have not been open to the possibility that they or their sources might be wrong or misinformed. 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. That one-time event was determined to be accidental and not a targeted attack against Apple.”

It is a very strange situation indeed. Apple is clearly upset. It is very rare for the company to offer such a direct rebuttal to a specific report. Bloomberg has posted the full comments from the companies implicated in a separate story.

Here’s Apple’s extensive response to the Bloomberg report:

Over the course of the past year, Bloomberg has contacted us multiple times with claims, sometimes vague and sometimes elaborate, of an alleged security incident at Apple. Each time, we have conducted rigorous internal investigations based on their inquiries and each time we have found absolutely no evidence to support any of them. We have repeatedly and consistently offered factual responses, on the record, refuting virtually every aspect of Bloomberg’s story relating to Apple.

On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, “hardware manipulations” or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server. Apple never had any contact with the FBI or any other agency about such an incident. We are not aware of any investigation by the FBI, nor are our contacts in law enforcement.

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. None of those servers has ever been found to hold malicious chips.

As a matter of practice, before servers are put into production at Apple they are inspected for security vulnerabilities and we update all firmware and software with the latest protections. We did not uncover any unusual vulnerabilities in the servers we purchased from Super Micro when we updated the firmware and software according to our standard procedures.

We are deeply disappointed that in their dealings with us, Bloomberg’s reporters have not been open to the possibility that they or their sources might be wrong or misinformed. 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. That one-time event was determined to be accidental and not a targeted attack against Apple.

While there has been no claim that customer data was involved, we take these allegations seriously and we want users to know that we do everything possible to safeguard the personal information they entrust to us. We also want them to know that what Bloomberg is reporting about Apple is inaccurate.

Apple has always believed in being transparent about the ways we handle and protect data. If there were ever such an event as Bloomberg News has claimed, we would be forthcoming about it and we would work closely with law enforcement. Apple engineers conduct regular and rigorous security screenings to ensure that our systems are safe. 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.


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