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Investigation Finds Malicious Chips on Supermicro Motherboards

Category: General News
Posted: 09:27AM

If you thought software hacking was all one needed to worry about, then you may have some new concerns on your mind. Bloomberg is reporting that as many as 30 companies had servers with motherboards compromised by a malicious chip. The timeline described starts in 2015, when Amazon was looking into Elemental Technologies as a potential acquisition, so it sent sample severs to a third-party for evaluation. What these testers discovered was a small chip, about the size of a grain of rice, on the motherboards that were not supposed to be there. This was reported and it turns out these chips have the purpose of allowing access to the networks with these servers installed. The motherboards were made by Supermicro, one of the world's largest server motherboard suppliers.

According to Bloomberg, this hardware attack was perpetrated by China, and it developed the chip so it could seed them into devices manufactured by its factories. While it would take a significant amount of time to put such an attack together, and then some luck for the compromised motherboards to end up in use where there will be impact, it appears that is exactly what happened. Elemental Technologies creates servers for processing video files and has seen its technology used for streaming the Olympics, communicating with the International Space Station, CIA drone footage, and more. Supermicro motherboards are used by more than Elemental though, and according to one official, Bloomberg says almost 30 companies were affected by this, including a major bank, government contractors, and Apple. Apple discovered some of its servers had the chips in them around May 2015 as it noticed unusual network activity and firmware issues.

Three years after the discovery, the investigation is ongoing, and apparently includes looking into Supermicro and other companies in case spies were planted to facilitate the attack. This attack shows the global supply chain for technology can in fact be compromised.

Source: Bloomberg

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