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U.S. Senators Are Demanding Answers from Supermicro About Spy Chip

U.S. Senators Are Demanding Answers from Supermicro About Spy Chip

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Richard Blumenthal have written to Supermicro asking for more information about reports that the company’s servers had been compromised by a spy chip.

The letter expresses concern over the potential tampering of computer hardware produced by Supermicro, which is allegedly part of espionage efforts by the Chinese government, reported on by Bloomberg Newsweek.

Business Insider:

“If this news report is accurate, the potential infiltration of Chinese backdoors could provide a foothold for adversaries and competitors to engage in commercial espionage and launch destructive cyber attacks,” Rubio and Blumenthal wrote.

The pair added: “As Members of Congress, we are alarmed by any potential threats to national security and have a responsibility to ensure our nation’s sensitive networks are kept safe. We write to request information from Supermicro on these reported attempts to subvert its computer products to spy on the United States.”

The Bloomberg report claims tiny spy chips were included on motherboards supplied to Apple, Amazon, and other tech companies which provide backdoors that allow Chinese operatives to access data on demand.

The letter lists eight questions that Senators are requesting answers to by October 17.

Although both Apple and Amazon have strongly denied the report, which Rubio and Blumenthal acknowledged, they say the issues raised in the report were too important to simply accept the companies’ statements at face value.

A Tuesday report by Bloomberg also claimed that a “major US telecom” also discovered compromised Supermicro equipment in August. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint have all denied that they had been affected.

Here is the full text of the letter from Senators Rubio and Blumenthal (via Business Insider):

Dear Mr. Liang,

On October 4, 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek published stunning allegations of sophisticated cyber espionage operations by the Chinese government purported to involve the tampering of computer hardware manufactured and distributed by Supermicro. If this news report is accurate, the potential infiltration of Chinese backdoors could provide a foothold for adversaries and competitors to engage in commercial espionage and launch destructive cyber attacks. As Members of Congress, we are alarmed by any potential threats to national security and have a responsibility to ensure our nation’s sensitive networks are kept safe. We write to request information from Supermicro on these reported attempts to subvert its computer products to spy on the United States.

Bloomberg  reported that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army engaged in a sophisticated operation to insert malicious surveillance and data manipulation components onto server motherboards. Chinese intelligence agents reportedly deceived, bribed, and coerced Supermicro’s third-party manufacturers and subcontractors to alter motherboard designs. These added components—while appearing to be innocuous, common chips to an observer—would have been complex backdoors, and could quietly provide the Chinese government the ability to exfiltrate confidential data and bypass security controls on the nation’s most sensitive systems.

According to Bloomberg’s report, the infected servers were found in almost 30 companies, including important financial institutions, government contractors, and technology companies. Moreover, the operation was reportedly not found until Apple and Amazon detected abnormal network traffic and undocumented hardware components in audits of their networks and systems. WhenThe Information reported in February 2017 on Apple’s decision to end its contract with your company, Supermicro’s senior vice-president of technology, Tau Leng, told the publication that malicious firmware from an outside manufacturer was found and committed to an independent investigation.

We note that Supermicro, Apple, and Amazon have issued strong denials regarding the Bloomberg report. However, the nature of the claims raised alarms that must be comprehensively addressed. In The Information’s February 2017 article, Mr. Leng disclosed that “thousands of customers” were using the same hardware. These customers deserve answers immediately. While large tech firms may have the financial resources and expertise to mitigate sophisticated cyber security threats or completely remove affected hardware, most companies do not. Nor do they have the information to act.

We are alarmed about the dangers posed by backdoors, and take any claimed threat to the nation’s networks and supply chain seriously. These new allegations require thorough answers and urgent investigation for customers, law enforcement, and Congress. We ask that you provide responses to following questions by October 17, 2018:

1.)     When did Supermicro first become aware of reports regarding malicious hardware components and firmware in its computers and hardware? Has Supermicro ever found tampering of components or firmware that targeted its products?

2.)     Has Supermicro conducted an investigation of its chain of suppliers to identify any possible modifications or security issues with its products? If it has found tampering, has it severed ties with those suppliers?

3.)     If Supermicro has found or otherwise become aware of unaccounted-for modification on hardware or firmware, has it taken steps to remove the tampered product from the supply chain?  

4.)     When The Information reported in February 2017 that Apple had found compromised firmware, did Supermicro conduct any investigation into the potential infiltration of its supply chain as Mr. Leng had committed to do so? If so, what were the results of this investigation?

5.)     Has Supermicro cooperated with law enforcement in the United States to address such reports? If tampering is found, will you provide a list of potentially affected customers to U.S. authorities and provide information to customers?

6.)     Has Supermicro enacted screening measures or audits to assess its supply chain and detect and mitigate any such attempts to tamper with products?

7.)     If tampering is found, does Supermicro assess that such tampering could be mitigated based on firmware updates, software patches, configuration changes, or operating system defenses?

8.)     Has the Chinese government ever requested access to Supermicro’s confidential security information or sought to restrict information regarding the security of Supermicro’s products?  

Thank you for your attention to these important issues. We look forward to your response.

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