UK's GCHQ, U.S. officials cast doubt on iCloud server spy chip report

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 5
A report claiming Apple and almost 30 other companies were targeted by Chinese spies embedding chips in hardware has faced more scrutiny over the last 24 hours, with government officials and security agencies sharing doubts over the story's accuracy.

GCHQ Cheltenham, via GCHQ
GCHQ Cheltenham, via GCHQ


In the report published on Thursday, Bloomberg Businessweek alleged hardware used by a number of organizations, including Apple, Amazon, and the military, had been doctored at the point of manufacture in China. It is claimed the addition of a small chip onto each device destined for use as servers would have provided Chinese hackers unfettered access to corporate networks, allowing them to spy on and acquire sensitive internal data.

While many of the companies involved have spoken out against the report, individuals and government agencies are also commenting on the story, with the general consensus being that it is unlikely to be true.

A rare statement received by Reuters from the National Cyber Security Center, part of the UK's GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) security agency, advises "We are aware of the media reports but at this stage have no reason to doubt the detailed assessments made by AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Apple."

The GCHQ arm adds "The NCSC engages confidentially with security researchers and urges anybody with credible intelligence about these reports to contact us."

The statement from GCHQ, the UK equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, is unusual as the organization typically does not tend to issue statements unless pressed. Comments from the agency do get released, but typically after heavy pressure from the media or the government, and not usually over a single report containing accusations of potential international espionage.

A number of U.S. officials contacted by the Washington Post advised they were uncertain about how accurate the report truly is. One of the officials, speaking under the condition of anonymity, previously suggested the "thrust of the article" was true, but later admitted to being uncertain about that assertion.

The comments join a chorus of statements from other organizations claiming the story is inaccurate. Shortly after its publication, Apple was among the first companies to issue a strong denial of the article.

In a statement provided to AppleInsider on Thursday, Apple insisted it "has never found malicious chips, 'hardware manipulations' or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server," that it had never contacted the FBI or agency about such an incident, and was not aware of any FBI investigation into the matter.

"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," the statement continued. "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."

Internal sources not authorized to speak to on behalf of the company told AppleInsider the allegations were "laughable" and "really, really wrong." Apple later advised it was "not under any kind of gag order or other confidentiality obligations" relating to the supposed investigation.

Amazon's statement noted "there are so many inaccuracies in this article as it relates to Amazon that they're hard to count." After explaining its security assessment of Elemental, a startup Amazon was considering acquiring and whose servers were alleged to be bugged, Amazon called the alleged network-wide audit of motherboards in a Beijing data center as untrue, and the sale of hardware and Chinese datacenter to partner Sinnet as an attempt to get rid of its affected servers as "absurd."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.
    edited October 5 ivanh
  • Reply 2 of 46
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,605member
    A rare statement received by Reuters from the National Cyber Security Center, part of the UK's GCHQ security agency, advises "We are aware of the media reports but at this stage have no reason to doubt the detailed assessments made by AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Apple."

    ...unless you’re a FUD monger on the other thread, of course, who suggest doubt of these detailed assessments and statements released by Apple. 

    Sounds pretty certain to me. Unnamed sources in a typical Bloomberg article, or...the rest of the world. hmm.
    edited October 5 watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 46
    ceek74ceek74 Posts: 320member
    Oh, well since the GCHQ says it's not true, I guess we definitely should believe them.  :|
    cornchipivanh
  • Reply 4 of 46
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,605member
    ceek74 said:
    Oh, well since the GCHQ says it's not true, I guess we definitely should believe them.  :|
    ....and Tim Cook and Apple’s leadership, and Amazon’s leadership, and AI’s sources. Corporations who are legally barred from lying to their investors. Vs Bloomberg and it’s unnamed sources and zero evidence provided. 
    edited October 5 Rayz2016JWSCnetmagechasmcornchipwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 46
    rwx9901 said:
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.

    The article is mostly right, but it is made to look like China is doing the spying when in reality it is someone else.

    Who do we know that has a history of installing spy chips on computers? Hint: Snowden told us.
    edited October 5 muthuk_vanalingamradarthekat
  • Reply 6 of 46
    dipdog3 said:
    rwx9901 said:
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.

    The article is mostly right, but it is made to look like China is doing the spying when in reality it is someone else.

    Who do we know that has a history of installing spy chips on computers? Hint: Snowden told us.
    you're exactly right.  Now Apple is saying that none of this is happening.  Just me being a cynic here but I think Apple is doing this so that they don't ruffle the feathers of their bread and butter manufacturing in China.  If they angered the Chinese with allegations like this they'd be in a world of hurt.  I really don't know who to believe.
    edited October 5 muthuk_vanalingamcornchip
  • Reply 7 of 46
    JanNLJanNL Posts: 246member
    I think it's a bigger problem GCHQ spied for years on Apple's plans for the new campus. What a shameless copy  ;)
    JWSCdewmecornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 46
    eideardeideard Posts: 351member
    I forget the name of the dweebs Bloomberg often relies on for anti-Chinese corporate stuff.  …"China Labor something-or-other". First time I read one of their releases, I did a search on the group's history. They turned to be - originally - funded by the Brits to try to stop the return of Hong Kong to China provenance when their Imperial-era 99-year lease ran out.

    Funding by the Brits dried up. So, they re-jiggered their "mandate" and switched over to the old network of warlord historians and cold warriors in the GOUSA. Issuing crap press releases most often about Apple subcontractors is pretty much how they earn their stipend.
    muthuk_vanalingamcornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 46
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,557member
    In old times, USA might be involved doing similar thing due to cold war and fighting communism but now with China and Russia less of evil on military expansion front, economic war has started and China doing such thing of implanting and spying on American Tech companies is believable. I thank Bloomberg to bring it to front, limelight so everyone knows and if such thing happens in future, dots can be easily connected. Now, every company will be vigilant. Best thing, move manufacturing away from China..
  • Reply 10 of 46
    rwx9901 said:
    dipdog3 said:
    rwx9901 said:
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.

    The article is mostly right, but it is made to look like China is doing the spying when in reality it is someone else.

    Who do we know that has a history of installing spy chips on computers? Hint: Snowden told us.
    you're exactly right.  Now Apple is saying that none of this is happening.  Just me being a cynic here but I think Apple is doing this so that they don't ruffle the feathers of their bread and butter manufacturing in China.  If they angered the Chinese with allegations like this they'd be in a world of hurt.  I really don't know who to believe.

    I question this logic regarding angering China, as it relates to manufacturing.  Apple could switch manufacturing to South Korea if it were in trouble, not seamless, but easy enough with Korean component manufacturers.  Additionally, Apple has other international assembly partners in Brazil, and India.  Apple could manufacturer in the US if they wanted, although difficult.  These days, Apple components are manufactured in many different countries, and globally there is a greater diversity of suppliers.  Staying in China solely for the component suppliers is no longer accurate, more for their experienced contract manufacturers and cheap labor.  Tim Cook once managed Apple’s supply chain, I guarantee you Apple has emergency contingency plans.

    Your thoughts?

    netmagecornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 46
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,891member
    rwx9901 said:
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.
    Because reporters never lie or color their coverage and editors never cook up fanciful narratives for attention? Come on, man!
    edited October 5 mwhiteJWSCnetmagejony0bshankcornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 46
    19831983 Posts: 1,101member
    Bloomberg reporting false news now too?
    SpamSandwichcornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 46
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,605member
    rwx9901 said:
    dipdog3 said:
    rwx9901 said:
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.

    The article is mostly right, but it is made to look like China is doing the spying when in reality it is someone else.

    Who do we know that has a history of installing spy chips on computers? Hint: Snowden told us.
    you're exactly right.  Now Apple is saying that none of this is happening.  Just me being a cynic here but I think Apple is doing this so that they don't ruffle the feathers of their bread and butter manufacturing in China.  If they angered the Chinese with allegations like this they'd be in a world of hurt.  I really don't know who to believe.
    If Apple blatantly lied to their investors they'd be in huge trouble, Tim Cook would be fired, and his & Apple's reputation forever tarnished. That's nuts. That's conspiracy theory. Careers ruined and corporation damaged, just to make China feel good. No. It is most certainly not what is happening.
    mwhitenetmagejony0bshankcornchipwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 46
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,605member

    rwx9901 said:
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.
    Oh? What evidence did Bloomberg supply? All I saw was alluded to "unnamed sources". That's not evidence.
    mwhitenetmagejony0taddcornchipwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 46
    GG is still not convinced, I am sure.
    JWSCStrangeDayscornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 46
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,275member
    GG is still not convinced, I am sure.
    Invited I'm being invited again? OK...

     but don't be so sure. I'm coming around the more this is denied.
    https://forums.appleinsider.com/discussion/comment/3098040/#Comment_3098040

    edited October 5
  • Reply 17 of 46
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,398member
    We see laid bare in this thread the insane paranoia and conspiracy theories put forth by individuals of questionable stability. Any thing any government, any corporation says is a lie, right? There are black helicopters stationed around the world waiting for word from the Illuminati to attack, right? The U.S. government has Tesla coils installed at the North pole for mind control, right? Aliens exist and the government is covering it up, right? Americans didn’t land on the Moon in 1969. It was all a conspiracy to conceal all that money spent on nefarious things... and the Russians were in on it too, right?
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 46
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,686member
    wood1208 said:
    In old times, USA might be involved doing similar thing due to cold war and fighting communism but now with China and Russia less of evil on military expansion front, economic war has started and China doing such thing of implanting and spying on American Tech companies is believable. I thank Bloomberg to bring it to front, limelight so everyone knows and if such thing happens in future, dots can be easily connected. Now, every company will be vigilant. Best thing, move manufacturing away from China..
    Old times? No, all of this is still going on and in every direction. It would be safe to assume that those in the United States Cyber Command, and its vast array civilian partners, contractors, and university researchers aren't sitting around watching reruns of "I Love Lucy" and reminiscing about the "old times." I'm not convinced that there is any credibility to Bloomberg's claims with respect to Apple and Amazon, but the actual threats along the lines of what they are speculating about are very real and it's not just China to be concerned about. If you're on the Chinese side, search and replace "China" with "US" and it's the same story personalized for a different audience. Now is a time that we want to keep China very close, not isolated. Recommend taking a look at "@War" by Shane Harris.
    edited October 5 muthuk_vanalingamjony0
  • Reply 19 of 46
    The real mystery is why Bloomberg published the story in the first place? It fits so well with the new protectionist policies of the government. The story is the high tech way to say "your servers have cooties". You can't see them but they are there, trust us!
    StrangeDaysjony0
  • Reply 20 of 46
    rwx9901 said:
    I read the Bloomberg report and it seems that evidence is already there that is being done.  Now the government is saying the report is inaccurate?  Come on, man.
    Because reporters never lie or color their coverage and editors never cook up fanciful narratives for attention? Come on, man!
    That I won't argue.  Reporters are probably the most biased people on the planet.  However, if people think for a second that corporations do not lie they're fooling themselves.  Funny how the anti-corporation folks who talk about "greed" and "corporate jets" and "CEO bonuses" are now coming to their defense.
    edited October 5 muthuk_vanalingam
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