(National Sentinel) Strategic Competitor: It’s way past time for the United States to consider China a full-blown adversary intent on supplanting the Western-led world order so it can be replaced with Beijing’s brand of Communist authoritarianism.
U.S. intelligence has unearthed a massive “hardware hack” of U.S. computer systems involving tiny chips placed inside American machines that gave the Chinese military a ‘back door’ into sensitive, protected systems, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The hack severely compromised the United States’ technology supply chain, the news outlet reported:
In 2015, Amazon.com Inc. began quietly evaluating a startup called Elemental Technologies, a potential acquisition to help with a major expansion of its streaming video service, known today as Amazon Prime Video. Based in Portland, Ore., Elemental made software for compressing massive video files and formatting them for different devices. Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency. Elemental’s national security contracts weren’t the main reason for the proposed acquisition, but they fit nicely with Amazon’s government businesses, such as the highly secure cloud that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was building for the CIA.
To help with due diligence, AWS, which was overseeing the prospective acquisition, hired a third-party company to scrutinize Elemental’s security, according to one person familiar with the process. The first pass uncovered troubling issues, prompting AWS to take a closer look at Elemental’s main product: the expensive servers that customers installed in their networks to handle the video compression. These servers were assembled for Elemental by Super Micro Computer Inc., a San Jose-based company (commonly known as Supermicro) that’s also one of the world’s biggest suppliers of server motherboards, the fiberglass-mounted clusters of chips and capacitors that act as the neurons of data centers large and small. In late spring of 2015, Elemental’s staff boxed up several servers and sent them to Ontario, Canada, for the third-party security company to test, the person says.
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Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.
During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.
This attack was something graver than the software-based incidents the world has grown accustomed to seeing. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating, promising the kind of long-term, stealth access that spy agencies are willing to invest millions of dollars and many years to get.
According to Breitbart News, the chip “was designed to quietly signal outside computers controlled by hackers and give them such powerful access to the motherboard that they could effectively disable password systems, steal encryption keys, and sabotage security software. The extent of the attack was discovered, in part, by intercepting the signals sent by compromised computers to the waiting hackers.”
The Bloomberg report comes as Vice President Mike Pence said that China is using its power in “more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics of the United States.”
The VEEP also said that Beijing is targeting “industries and states that would play an important role in the 2018 election” as a response to POTUS Trump’s trade tariffs on China. “By one estimate, more than 80 percent of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration,” Pence said.
Given the Bloomberg report, it’s not inconceivable to conclude that balloting machines and election computers could also have been penetrated by Chinese military hackers. Sometimes POTUS Trump can be prone to hyperbole, but he has been the toughest president on China to come along in the modern era. It makes sense that China would want to do what it could to undermine him.
That said, China is proving time and again that it is not interested in a co-equal partnership with the United States, but rather Beijing seeks global dominance and is willing to steal to get it.
Now you know why the president’s tariffs and other economic punishments aimed at China are so relevant. But more must be done: The U.S. will need to rely on other chipmakers outside of China or our own in order to combat Beijing’s insatiable appetite for American technology. Then POTUS Trump can cut them off from the U.S. computer market altogether.
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