By Robert Hackett
October 7, 2018

Bloomberg Businessweek published a nuclear warhead-tipped report on Thursday alleging that Chinese military operatives have engaged in an unprecedented espionage campaign: Planting minuscule spy-chips on server motherboards that wound up inside “almost 30” companies, ranging from Apple to Amazon. While squishy on technical details, the magazine claimed that members of the People’s Liberation Army snuck rice grain-sized microchips onto these key IT infrastructure components during the manufacturing process, and the spies thereby gained, effectively, god-like powers over the machines.

There’s just one hitch: Just about every named organization has rejected the report. Supermicro, the business whose motherboards were said to contain the hardware backdoors, disputed the story. Amazon echoed the rebuttal. And Apple said it had “never found” anything like what Bloomberg described, “never had any contact with the FBI or any other agency about such an incident,” and was “not aware of any investigation.” (China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not outright reject the report, but described its claims as “gratuitous accusations and suspicions.”)

This is all very troubling. Did China subvert a global technology supply chain upon which the world’s economy is built? Did it so imperil international relations? Or is the story off the mark?

Bloomberg said its reporting derived from 17 unnamed sources, including “senior Apple insiders” and “senior national security officials.” Without more transparency, it’s hard to assess the piece’s veracity. While one might wish for greater openness, national security matters of equal gravity often necessitate secrecy. So the world is left to speculate.

This is a story worth paying attention to. Given the strongly worded denials from all parties involved, one must proceed with skepticism. It seems tremendously convenient that the report appeared now, just as talk of a trade war between the U.S. and China gets boiling. It makes me wonder, who might have agenda to push? Context seems an important factor to consider.

It’s likely there is truth in the piece, but in which parts remains an open question.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


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