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Friday, 19 October 2018

Tim Cook Calls for Retraction in Bloomberg Story About Spy Chips oniCloud Servers

Earlier this month, there was a report that detailed an exhaustive effort from Chinese spies to integrate specific chips onto servers used by some of the largest companies in the United States, namely Apple and Amazon.
The story was explosive right away, detailing how international spies had managed to find a way on the hardware level to access these companies, with the obvious implications being a major security breach. However, the story itself quickly spiraled out of control, and there was constant pressure from Apple (and Amazon), denying the story outright. Furthermore, security researchers, and even the Department of Homeland Security, all sided with Apple in the matter, finding no reason to doubt Apple’s statement that its servers had not been breached.

And now we’ve got Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, weighing in directly with a statement made to BuzzFeed News on Friday. Cook says that there is “no truth” to the original report from Bloomberg, and goes on to say that he believes the publication should print a retraction, saying they “need to do the right thing”.

“There is no truth in their story about Apple,” Cook told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “They need to do that right thing and retract it.”

Cook then goes on to say that they actually did quite a bit to try and find any truth to the original report, saying they “turned the company upside down”, even searching emails, looking through financial and shipment records, and looking through datacenter records.

Cook says he has been in the mix with the original report from the publication right from the start, saying that he spoke to the reporters on the story, along with Bruce Sewell, Apple’s General Counsel at the time. Cook says that each time the story was brought to their attention it changed in some way, and Apple would go further into separate investigations on the matter. Each time, according to Coook, they found nothing to actually corroborate Bloomberg‘s reporting.

Cook says that the report is based on “vague secondhand accounts”, and states that the reporters did not provide “any specific details” about the malicious chips in question.

“We turned the company upside down,” Cook said. “Email searches, data center records, financial records, shipment records. We really forensically whipped through the company to dig very deep and each time we came back to the same conclusion: This did not happen. There’s no truth to this.”

That has been Apple’s stance on the matter from day one, and it does not look like it’s going to be changing. And that is the case for Bloomberg as well, which is refusing to backdown on the matter and says it stands by its reporting, with a statement to BuzzFeed News:

“Bloomberg Businessweek’s investigation is the result of more than a year of reporting, during which we conducted more than 100 interviews,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in response to a series of questions. “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.”

Neither side of this story appears to be backing down anytime soon.

Our Take

Apple’s Tim Cook calling for a retraction on a story of this magnitude is pretty crazy. But the fact that so many independent agencies, including the DHS, have backed Apple on this matter does give the company a lot of room. The story itself has spun into something else entirely, almost eclipsing the original spy story altogether at this point.

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