Amazon Denies Report That AWS Elemental was Pawn in Chinese Chip Espionage

Amazon is denying a Bloomberg Businessweek report that said the Internet company’s AWS Elemental cloud video unit unwittingly integrated servers with spy chips secretly inserted by the Chinese government into the networks of clients including the CIA.

The report said that AWS Elemental, Apple and other U.S. companies purchased motherboards from San Jose, Calif.-based Super Micro Computer Inc. (aka “SuperMicro”) that, without their knowledge, included tiny chips inserted by Chinese operatives in the manufacturing process.

"As we shared with Bloomberg BusinessWeek multiple times over the last couple months, at no time, past or present, have we ever found any issues relating to modified hardware or malicious chips in SuperMicro motherboards in any Elemental or Amazon systems," Amazon said in an emailed statement. "Additionally, we have not engaged in an investigation with the government.”

Related: Amazon Web Services Snaps Up Elemental

Amazon purchased Elemental Technologies for $296 million in September 2015, adding a cloud video company that had a client list that included media companies Comcast, HBO and CBS Interactive, as well as national security ties to the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Navy.

As part of that purchase, Bloomberg reported, Amazon asked Elemental to ship some of its servers to a third-party security auditor. That auditor reportedly found tiny, rice-grain-sized chips on motherboards manufactured by Super Micro—chips that security experts said could only be included in the manufacturing stage.

These chips would allow malicious operators backdoor access to the networks that integrated them. Bloomberg said a “top secret” investigation into the matter is still ongoing.

In a separate statement provided to Bloomberg, Amazon said, “It’s untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental.”

Apple, meanwhile, told the news service, “On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, ‘hardware manipulations’ or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server.”

A Super Micro spokesman, meanwhile, added. “We remain unaware of any such investigation." 

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!