The Software Side of China’s Supply Chain Attack

Bloomberg BusinessWeek published a story on Thursday which claimed that data center equipments run by Amazon Web Services and Apple were subject to surveillance from the Chinese government via a tiny microchip inserted during the equipment manufacturing process. Both Amazon and Apple have vehemently refuted Bloomberg‘s reporting. Bloomberg‘s reporters, who have spent more than a year on the story and have cited 17 sources for the claims they make in it, have doubled down. In a new story, the news outlet reports that Supermicro was the target of at least two additional forms of attack. This report claims that Facebook was aware of these attacks, too, which has confirmed it. From the story: The first of the other two prongs involved a Supermicro online portal that customers used to get critical software updates, and that was breached by China-based attackers in 2015. The problem, which was never made public, was identified after at least two Supermicro customers downloaded firmware — software installed in hardware components — meant to update their motherboards’ network cards, key components that control communications between servers running in a data center. The code had been altered, allowing the attackers to secretly take over a server’s communications, according to samples passed around at the time among a small group of Supermicro customers. One of these customers was Facebook.

“In 2015, we were made aware of malicious manipulation of software related to Supermicro hardware from industry partners through our threat intelligence industry sharing programs,” Facebook said in an emailed statement. “While Facebook has purchased a limited number of Supermicro hardware for testing purposes confined to our labs, our investigations reveal that it has not been used in production, and we are in the process of removing them.” The victims considered the faulty code a serious breach.

Further reading: Bloomberg’s spy chip story reveals the murky world of national security reporting.