One miniscule microchip, found on Chinese-built motherboards, may have infiltrated the world's biggest companies and the depths of the U.S. government. But the extent of its devastation — and its future potential — is still unknown, a massive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek reveals.
Back when it was still developing Prime Video, Amazon aimed to and later did acquire Elemental Technologies, a startup whose video-streaming software had already landed it a CIA contract. Elemental's video-compressing servers were assembled by Californian company Supermicro, which in turn built its motherboards in China. And during the pre-acquisition process, those motherboards — essentially the brains of servers — were reportedly revealed to contain a rice-grain-sized chip that wasn't part of their original blueprint, "sending a shudder through the intelligence community," Businessweek says.
Elemental's servers were in U.S. Navy ships and Defense Department data centers, Businessweek interviews with U.S. officials reveal. Supermicro also reportedly had hundreds of customers beyond Elemental, including Apple, a top bank, and government contractors. And since this was a physical infestation, the consequences could be far more severe than a wireless hacking. The 2015 incident reportedly sparked an ongoing, top-secret federal investigation, which so far has revealed "the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines," Businessweek reports. The probe also concluded that Chinese subcontractors implanted the chips, officials tell Businessweek.
Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro denied knowing about an investigation into the malicious chips, with Amazon also saying "it's untrue that [Amazon Web Services] knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental." The Chinese government claimed to be "a resolute defender of cybersecurity" in statements to Bloomberg. Yet former and current national security officials say the companies knew they were victims of a hack and that Amazon cooperated with the government's probe.
Read the whole report at Bloomberg Businessweek.