Super Micro To Test For Chinese Spy Chips

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World’s largest motherboard maker is to review its hardware to check reports on Chinese spy chips

Super Micro Computer is to review its hardware for malicious chips to address concerns, after a controversial report from Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this month.

That report alleged the Chinese have installed spy chips on numerous hardware platforms (servers and others computers) from well known America tech firms including the likes of Apple, Amazon and others.

That report has generated a lot of anger in tech circles with Apple’s CEO Tim Cook last week demanding that Bloomberg retracts the article.

No proof

The Bloomberg Businessweek report earlier this month alleged that a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army had gained access to the internal systems of dozens of companies and US government agencies by planting spy chips in servers made by Super Micro during the manufacturing process at plants in China.

Super Micro was founded in 1993 in the US and carries out manufacturing operations via subcontractors in China. It is said to be one of the world’s biggest providers of server motherboards, with hundreds of high-profile customers.

The spy chips, Bloomberg reported, allowed the attackers to create “a stealth doorway” into any network running on a server in which they were embedded.

Super Micro joined tech firms in already dismissing the report, as have US and UK security officials.

Complicated review

Despite that, the firm has now pledged to carry out a complicated and time-consuming review to make sure its motherboards are not affected, as alleged in the Bloomberg article.

“We are confident that a recent article, alleging a malicious hardware chip was implanted during the manufacturing process of our motherboards, is wrong,” wrote Charles Liang, CEO and President of Super Micro in a letter to customers.

“Despite the lack of any proof that a malicious hardware chip exists, we are undertaking a complicated and time-consuming review to further address the article,” Liang added.

Super Micro pointed out that the Bloomberg reporters had not produced any compromised motherboard or any malicious chip as evidence.

The American-based firm, that has Taiwanese origins, said that it checks every board, and every layer of the motherboard, as well as the board’s functionality throughout the entire manufacturing process.

It also said that it employs spot checks and x-ray scans of the motherboards, as well as regular audits of its contract manufacturers.

Super Micro said its designs were very complex and this complexity makes it “practically impossible for anyone to insert a functional, unauthorised component into a motherboard without it being caught by any one, or all, of the checks in our manufacturing and assembly process.”

It said for these reasons it was confident that the allegations are wrong.

Unnamed sources

But Bloomberg Businessweek has stuck by its report.

“Bloomberg Businessweek’s investigation is the result of more than a year of reporting, during which we conducted more than 100 interviews,” the publication reportedly said in a statement.

“Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks.

“We also published three companies’ full statements, as well as a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting and sources,” it said.

But the tech industry disagrees, and Apple’s Tim Cook remains angry at the accusations.

“We turned the company upside down,” Cook reportedly said last week. “Email searches, data centre records, financial records, shipment records. We really forensically whipped through the company to dig very deep and each time we came back to the same conclusion: This did not happen. There’s no truth to this.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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