About two weeks ago, the American news media Bloomberg published almost cataclysmic information. It revealed that China had infiltrated nearly 30 American companies. Dubbed “The Big Hack” by the American media, this operation could easily become one of the largest commercial espionage campaigns from one state to another. The hack was discovered in late spring 2015, during Amazon’s pre-acquisition investigation into an American startup known at the time as “Elemental Technologies”.
To carry out the procedure, Amazon hired a company to review the startup’s security protocols and standards, according to a Bloomberg source close to the case. The first results of the investigation would have been so worrying that Jeff Bezos’ company decided to take a closer look at the startup’s flagship product: video compression servers assembled by Supermicro, one of the world’s largest suppliers of server motherboards. Elemental therefore sent some of its servers to the third party company that Amazon hired to manage the investigation process.
Subsequent examinations conducted on these servers would have revealed the presence of microchips that were not part of the original card design. Bloomberg explains that the purpose of the presence of these microchips was to create an entry point into company systems in order to eventually retrieve information. “During the subsequent top secret investigation, which remained open for more than three years, investigators discovered that the chips allowed attackers to create a “stealth door” to any network including pirated devices.
Investigators also discovered that the chips had been inserted in factories run by subcontractors in China,” the American daily reports. It is consistent to assume that all servers assembled by Supermicro may have been compromised. To give an idea of the scale and gravity, let us recall that just Elemental’s servers are used in the Department of Justice, in CIA UAV operations and in Navy ship networks. Let’s also remember that Elemental is only a grain of sand among Supermicro’s hundreds of customers. Immediately after Bloomberg’s revelation, several companies, including Apple, made their voices heard and denied Bloomberg’s allegations en masse.
Apple seems not to have been satisfied with simply denying the allegations. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO during a telephone interview with the American news website BuzzFeed, asked Bloomberg to retract all these allegations. “There is no truth in their story about Apple. They have to make the right decision and retract,” he says. “I personally spoke to Bloomberg journalists with Bruce Sewell, who was our General Counsel at the time. We were very clear with them that this had not happened and answered all their questions: Every time they told us this, the story changed and every time we investigated, we found nothing,” he added. Apple’s CEO criticizes the notorious lack of evidence. He says Bloomberg reporters had never provided his company with specific details about the malicious chips it had found and removed.
This is historical, because it is the first time that Apple has asked a news agency or media to retract an article published. Bloomberg defended himself by replying that his investigation was “the result of more than a year of reports in which they conducted more than 100 interviews”. “Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and corporate insiders, confirmed the manipulation of computer equipment and other elements of the attacks. We also published the full statements of three companies, as well as a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. We are faithful to our history and have confidence in our reports and sources,” Bloomberg adds in his defense.
The plot around this case is therefore very opaque. Between the companies that deny Bloomberg’s allegations and Bloomberg who claims to have faith in his reports and sources, the mystery remains. Deciding on the issue, Internet users state that the only almost certain point in this case was that there is a kind of mysterious influence game. They present three options to support their claims. Option one: Apple has been hacked, knows it and knowingly denies it, which would be proof that they are under the control of American national security. Second one