Apple's Former Legal Chief Bruce Sewell Says FBI 'Never Heard' of Supermicro Allegations Last Year

Apple's efforts to thoroughly deny this week's bombshell Bloomberg Businessweek report now extend to a former top executive.

Apple's former general counsel Bruce Sewell

Apple's recently retired general counsel Bruce Sewell told Reuters he called the FBI's then-general counsel James Baker last year after being told by Bloomberg of an open investigation into Supermicro, and was told that nobody at the federal law enforcement agency knew what the story was about.

"I got on the phone with him personally and said, 'Do you know anything about this?," Sewell said of his conversation with Baker, reports Reuters. "He said, 'I've never heard of this, but give me 24 hours to make sure.' He called me back 24 hours later and said 'Nobody here knows what this story is about.'"

Sewell's comments are consistent with a statement Apple shared with Bloomberg Businessweek and on its Newsroom on Thursday:
On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, "hardware manipulations" or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server. Apple never had any contact with the FBI or any other agency about such an incident. We are not aware of any investigation by the FBI, nor are our contacts in law enforcement.
Also from Apple's Newsroom:
No one from Apple ever reached out to the FBI about anything like this, and we have never heard from the FBI about an investigation of this kind — much less tried to restrict it.
Apple later clarified that it is not under any kind of gag order or other confidentiality obligations after speculation mounted.

Amazon and Supermicro have also refuted the Bloomberg Businessweek report, with the latter company claiming it has "never been contacted by any government agencies either domestic or foreign regarding the alleged claims."

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has also backed Apple's and Amazon's denials of the Bloomberg Businessweek report, which claimed Chinese spies planted tiny chips the size of a pencil tip on server motherboards manufactured by Supermicro, which were used in Apple data centers and elsewhere.

"We are aware of the media reports but at this stage have no reason to doubt the detailed assessments made by AWS and Apple," the agency, a unit of the GCHQ, said in a statement provided to Reuters today.

"The NCSC engages confidentially with security researchers and urges anybody with credible intelligence about these reports to contact us."

Bloomberg Businessweek yesterday reported that Apple discovered the suspicious microchips around May 2015, after detecting odd network activity and firmware problems. Two senior Apple insiders were cited as saying the company reported the incident to the FBI, but kept details tightly held.

The insiders cited in the report said in the summer of 2015, a few weeks after Apple identified the malicious chips, the company started removing all Supermicro servers from its data centers. Every one of the 7,000 or so Supermicro servers was replaced in a matter of weeks, according to one of the insiders.

One government official cited in the Bloomberg Businessweek report said China's goal was "long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks." No consumer data is known to have been stolen, the report added, but the extent of the alleged attack appears to be unclear.

At this point, there is a clear divide between what Bloomberg is reporting and the denials from Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro. In the coming days, additional information will hopefully provide some clarity about the matter.

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Top Rated Comments

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17 months ago

but the question remains

The question being: why would a previously respected business news outlet, publish a blatantly made up story designed to discredit products and services coming from China? And why this is happening at the time when the US administration has triggered a tariff war with China?
Rating: 16 Votes
17 months ago
Trump deep-state operation to make Americans more willing to accept pain from tariffs on Chinese goods?
Kushner seems a likely source for Bloomberg. Could be any of a dozen different people though.
Maybe the reporter will let us know his source.
Rating: 14 Votes
17 months ago
At this point, it's pretty obvious it's a fake story.

If the "hack" was discovered in 2015, how come Super Micro equipment is still being procured by the U.S. government and is still a GSA vendor?

This story has just enough techno-lingo to fool the kids or grandparents but anyone with a tech background would dismiss it.

An appropriate hack would have been at the mask level by designing logic right into the baseband management controller. Super Micro controls the BMC design and can add a backdoor at the transistor level.
Rating: 10 Votes
17 months ago
But what if the government has told Apple, Amazon, etc. that if you are asked about this, you must deny everything, including answering whether you have been contacted about it, and if you are under any restrictions to speak about it? I'm not sure that's so far-fetched these days. Especially since large US systems being compromised by Chinese spying, or even a rumor of it, has massive personal, political, and economic impacts.
Rating: 8 Votes
17 months ago

Trump deep-state operation to make Americans more willing to accept pain from tariffs on Chinese goods?
Kushner seems a likely source for Bloomberg. Could be any of a dozen different people though.
Maybe the reporter will let us know his source.

Why would Michael Bloomberg's company make up a story that puts nationalist gas in Trump's tank? Makes no sense.
Rating: 7 Votes
17 months ago
If amazon and Apple turn out to have made unusually emphatic false statements, executives will go to jail.
No, this is a classic low life scenario where a journalist writes a story, then goes to get some colour to fill it by approaching the companies with confronting questions. To their surprise instead of the expected and planned for “no comment”, gets an actually detailed response from multiple companies that calls their whole story into question, but rather than rewrite, still goes with the original story regardless, from ‘sources’.
This is example eleventy zillion of why people more and more despise journalists.
Rating: 6 Votes
17 months ago

They’re not lying in regards to the server...but what if it’s been added to every circuit/logic board of every device that’s manufactured in China?

What if the NSA added the chip after Apple declined to provide a back door? And then blamed China once somebody found out.
Rating: 5 Votes
17 months ago
If this turns out to be as incorrect of a story as it is appearing to be, I hope the public backlash is as bad for the journalists and Businessweek as it would be for the companies if it were reasonably accurate.
Rating: 5 Votes
17 months ago

Trump deep-state operation to make Americans more willing to accept pain from tariffs on Chinese goods?
Kushner seems a likely source for Bloomberg. Could be any of a dozen different people though.
Maybe the reporter will let us know his source.

I am starting to believe this to be the case more and more.

Someone leaked a false story to Bloomberg, who went ahead with it without properly checking their sources. The US government will then use this to justify another round of tariffs.

It’s the Judith Miller reporting of the iraq war at New York Times fiasco all over again.
Rating: 4 Votes
17 months ago
Maybe yes Maybe no - How can any of us know anything at all?

Quote I saw from some other guys that seems relevant:

- "What’s untold throughout is that the US Government can hide the origins of their own hacking attacks and disguise them as Russian or Chinese activity (search for CIA Marble software, as revealed by WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 tranche of files). Their code will even misdirect security reserachers into thinking Russian/Chinese/Iranian hackers are hiding their tracks."


Fake responses from trillion dollar companies because, you know, they have nothing to lose in this game... Lying in the name of all that money. Nah. The government covering something up? Nah. That couldn't happen. It couldn't be that the Chinese hung our asses out to dry, or that the US has ever intercepted goods shipped overseas and modified them to spy.

If this "story" did actually happen, which I am not saying it did or did not, do you really think that the parties involved would say, "Yeah. The Chinese won this round of spying. Sorry. Our bad.".

Never underestimate your enemies. More importantly, never underestimate the people you choose to trust.

Fake news. LOL. The biggest ******** phrase I have ever listened to. Every time a story shines a negative light on something, it just HAS to be FAKE NEWS!!! Hmmm. Who was it that coined that phrase? What a legacy to leave behind - coining the term fake news. lol

Disclaimer: I do believe that there is news that is made up - aka fake news. I also know that everyone tells a story their own way. It's human nature. I'm not naive, and I don't believe something JUST because someone says, or writes it.

EDIT: I see that two people posted similar posts to the one I wrote while I was writing it. Oops...

How about the "Post Truth World" - does that resonate with you?

How come so many people will eat up any story that points a finger at our "enemies" - even after we saw the fakery of chemical weapons in Iraq in c2003. Hard to believe so many people quoting what the "intelligence agencies" have told us. Any story you hear on TV is 50% bulldada. Now I find many of my friends who I used to think were reasonable, hating Trump so much that they force themselves to eat up any propaganda that is convenient.

To me - it is a big problem. So many nice people thinking the most absurd things are true.

Even if these chips were indeed inserted into Apple servers, how can we be so sure it was "Chinese" who did it? Where is the logic, where is the Who What When Where Why? Why not blame the usual suspects? What is the real truth of the matter?

Anyone thinks they can know for sure?

We all need to critique our "world view" - or risk ending up like David Einhorn who sold 75% of his AAPL stock back in spring 2018, piles up losses for the year and thinks he is right all along!
Rating: 3 Votes

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