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Wednesday, 12 December 2018 05:43

Spying claim: Supermicro says external probe draws a blank

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Spying claim: Supermicro says external probe draws a blank Pixabay

Server manufacturer Supermicro says an external investigation into claims that chips were implanted on some of its motherboards to spy on companies has drawn a blank.

The company told customers in a letter that it was not surprised at the result of a review, begun in October after news agency Bloomberg claimed that the supply chain had been compromised by agents from China in a bid to spy on some customers.

Reuters  reported that the investigation had been carried out by a company known as Nardello & Co and Supermicro customers could obtain more details if they asked.

A source said current mainboards were tested, as also those sold to Apple and Amazon, two companies named by Bloomberg as having used the boards that allegedly had chip implants.

Software and design files were also inspected but nothing was found to substantiate Bloomberg's claims.

The Bloomberg article attracted strong and detailed denials from Apple, Amazon and also Supermicro.

Towards the end of October, Supermicro president and chief executive Charles Liang sent a letter to customers, saying the story was dead wrong.

Prior to that, Apple chief executive Tim Cook took the unusual step of asking Bloomberg to retract the story which was published on 4 October. Supermicro's shares were badly hit by the story.

Amazon Web Services manager Andy Jassy backed Cook. ""[The] Bloomberg story is wrong about Amazon, too. They offered no proof, [the] story kept changing, and [they] showed no interest in our answers unless we could validate their theories. Reporters got played or took liberties. Bloomberg should retract [the story]," he said in a tweet at the time.

In its story, Bloomberg claimed security testing by Amazon in 2015 had revealed the existence of tiny chips that were not part of the original mainboard design and that this led to an extensive investigation by US Government agencies which found servers built using these boards in data centres belonging to the Department of Defence, on warships, and for processing data being handled by CIA drones.

The news agency said that major banks were also using servers made by Supermicro and that the government investigation led to several companies getting rid of the Supermicro equipment.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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