Fast-forward three years, and Bloomberg has reported that China planted microchips inside the servers used by Amazon and other companies. But it said a top-secret USA government investigation, dating from 2015 and involving the FBI, remains open. Apple said it did not find the chips as asserted by BusinessWeek - which cited anonymous government and corporate sources.
Back in 2015, Amazon took such a liking to Elemental for its software-defined video solutions, that Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced on September 3, 2015, its intention to acquire Elemental. One affected company had its servers used by USA government clients, including Department of Defense data centers, Navy warships and the Central Intelligence Agency in its drone operations. After spotting tiny chips on the servers' motherboards which were not part of the original design, Amazon reported its findings to United States authorities, "sending a shudder through the intelligence community".
A third-party security testing firm hired by Amazon found the chips on servers from a company called Elemental Technologies, which Amazon acquired to bolster its streaming video business, according to the report.
Apple said the incident "was determined to be accidental and not a targeted attack".
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a written request for comment on Thursday.
Apple for its part has already issued a statement strongly refuting all the claims made by Bloomberg in their report.
China spying on Apple, Amazon and over 20 other companies: Report
If this report is true, why would Amazon and Apple deny it?
The attack was reportedly discovered in 2015 by the U.S. intelligence services, as well as by Apple and Amazon as the companies purchased servers made by Super Micro Computer.
Reuters was unable to reach Apple, Amazon or representatives with the FBI, Dept of Homeland Security Agency and National Security Agency for comment. Each of their denials was reported by Bloomberg. Not part of the motherboards' original design, the malicious chips are believed to have been implanted at factories run by Chinese manufacturing subcontractors and created to offer "long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks".
The chips reportedly subvert the hardware on which they are installed, draining data while also delivering new code, as does a Trojan horse.
Apple denied it had ever found malicious chips.
"On this, we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, "hardware manipulations" or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server", the tech giant says. "While we would cooperate with any government investigation, we are not aware of any investigation regarding this topic, nor have we been contacted by any government agency in this regard". However, a total of 17 individuals claiming to have deep internal knowledge of both Apple and Amazon claim that the reasoning behind the removal of Supermicro systems was due to the discovery of exceptionally tiny spy chips.