Detailed And Thorough Debunking Of Bloomberg’s Sketchy Story About Supply Chain Hack

Last week we noted that the general consensus at this point is that Bloomberg screwed up its story about a supposed supply chain hack, in which it was claimed that Chinese spies hacked Supermicro chips that were destined for Apple and Amazon. Basically everyone is loudly denying the story, and many are raising questions about it. In our comments, some of you still seemed to want to believe the article, and argued (without any evidence) that the US and UK governments, along with Amazon and Apple, were flat out lying about all of this. I pointed out a few times that that’s not how things work. Also untrue is the idea that many floated that the US government was forcing Apple and Amazon to lie. That also is not how things work (for those who don’t believe this, please check your First Amendment case history).

Anyway, over at Serve the Home, Patrick Kennedy has one of the most thorough and comprehensive debunkings of the Bloomberg story, detailing how incredibly implausible the story is. Kennedy’s write-up is very detailed, including lots of pictures and detailed drawings of how networks are set up. Here’s just a little snippet as an example:

The next inaccuracy to this paragraph is the line describing BMCs as “giving them access to the most sensitive code even on machines that have crashed or are turned off.” That is not how this technology works.

Baseboard management controllers or BMCs are active on crashed or turned off servers. They allow one to, for example, power cycle servers remotely. If you read our piece Explaining the Baseboard Management Controller or BMC in Servers BMCs are superchips. They replace a physical administrator working on a server in a data center for most tasks other than physical service (e.g. changing failed hard drives.)

At the same time, the sensitive data on a system is in the main server complex, not the BMC. When the BMC is powered on, hard drives, solid state drives, the server’s CPU (for decrypting data) and memory are not turned on. If you read our embedded systems reviews, such as the Supermicro A2SDi-16C-HLN4F 16-core Intel Atom C3955 mITX Motherboard Review, we actually publish power figures for when a system is on versus when the BMC only is active. In that review, the BMC powered on utilizes 4.9W of power. SSDs each have idle power consumption generally above 1W and hard drives use considerably more even at idle. The point here is that when the server’s BMC is turned on, and the server is powered off, it is trivially easy to measure that the attached storage is not powered on and accessible.

When a server is powered off it is not possible to access a server’s “most sensitive code.” OS boot devices are powered off. Local storage is powered off for the main server. Further encrypted sensitive code pushed from network storage is not accessible, and a BMC would not authenticate.

This line from the Bloomberg is technically inaccurate because a powered off server’s storage with its sensitive code has no power and cannot be accessed.

There is much, much more in the piece, and it is well worth reading if you still think Bloomberg was on to something with its story.

So far, Bloomberg has stood by its story, even though it increasingly seems clear that its reporters — Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson — were in over their heads. It is possible that something questionable happened, but it almost certainly did not happen the way they described it. The fact that Bloomberg has refused to recognize any of these concerns is incredibly damning for Bloomberg’s reputation.

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