Earlier this month, Bloomberg published a bombshell report claiming that agents from a Chinese intelligence organization successfully planted malicious hardware on Supermicro servers that eventually were put into use by companies like Apple and Amazon. Before long, numerous questions about the veracity of the original report were being raised. Not only was the Bloomberg report curiously spotty with respect to how the attack actually operated, one of the story’s main sources claims that the story Bloomberg ultimately ran with didn’t make any sense.
What’s more, both Amazon and Apple issued strongly worded responses unequivocally denying all aspects of the story. And while some PR statements tend to be vague and leave things open to interpretation, Apple and Amazon’s denials were sweepingly specific and left no stone unturned.
Apple’s denial reads in part: “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.”
A few weeks later, Tim Cook is now calling on Bloomberg to retract the story altogether. During an interview with BuzzFeed News, Cook emphasized yet again that the Bloomberg story is not only misleading, but wholly inaccurate.
“There is no truth in their story about Apple,” Cook said. “They need to do that right thing and retract it.”
Bloomberg, meanwhile, does not appear intent on doing any such thing. If anything, the company has doubled down on the report. Commenting on the matter, a spokesperson from Bloomberg told BuzzFeed:
Bloomberg Businessweek’s investigation is the result of more than a year of reporting, during which we conducted more than 100 interviews. Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks. We also published three companies’ full statements, as well as a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting and sources.
For what it’s worth, the fact that Bloomberg worked on the story for more than a year and conducted more than 100 interviews isn’t persuasive in the slightest, especially if the story from the very beginning — as Apple alleges — was based on misinformation.
With both sides digging their heels in the sand, we have a scenario where both parties cannot possibly be right. Either Apple is lying — which at this point seems completely implausible — or Bloomberg spent a whole lot of resources chasing down a ghost of a story.