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What are Chinese Netizens Saying About Bloomberg’s Supermicro “Big Hack” Story?

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Last week, a Bloomberg Businessweek bombshell report unveiled what it claimed was an ongoing U.S. investigation into an alleged Chinese microchip hack involving 30 U.S companies, including the technology behemoths Apple and Amazon.

The article, entitled “The Big Hack”, claims that motherboards assembled and sold by Supermicro, a San-Jose based company and one of the biggest suppliers of motherboards in the world, were implanted with malicious microchips by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army while being manufactured in China.

The microchips implanted on the motherboards are purported to be “as small as a sharpened pencil tip”, and essentially create a “stealth doorway” into networks connected to the tampered motherboards. These doorways would allow hackers continuous access to “high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks,” according to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg Businessweek‘s “The Big Hack” cover story

One expert in the article likened achieving such a feat to “witnessing a unicorn jump over a rainbow”, and many Chinese netizens have responded to the report with similar disbelief. Some were skeptical China was capable of manufacturing the microchips, while others simply distrusted the motives behind the investigation.

One string of comments on a questioning article from tech publication 36kr reflects netizens’ doubts:

“I only wish we had this technology,” reads one top rated comment, while another reflects cynically, “When they say China is a threat its technology is out of this world, when they say China is friendly its technology is from the Stone Age.”

But there are some believers. One user responded to a doubtful comment on Sina Weibo by saying, “How is it that only humanities students are making fun of this. This technology is nothing, as long as we want to make something we can do it…”

“Well I’m in the sciences and I also think this report is nonsense,” reads a response. “Just go learn what an SoC is,” says the OP, referring to system-on-a-chip microchips.

“I studied microcontrollers, are you saying what’s in the picture is an SoC? Are you trying to insult my intelligence or yours?”, the other contends.

A few netizens went so far as to liken the report to starting a war under false pretenses.

One top comment on Weibo reads, “It’s just like that Iraq washing detergent”, alluding to a speech made by the Bush Administration Secretary of State Collin Powell, thought to be partly responsible for the start of the Iraq War. (A subsequent meme replaced Powell’s waving of “suspect powder” with him waving a bag of washing detergent instead.)

Powell cleans up at the UN

Another comment on Weibo reads, “Two Japanese soldiers go missing at Marco Polo Bridge”, in reference to the spark of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which ultimately led to the Second Sino-Japanese War.

As noted by many Chinese netizens, Apple, Amazon and Supermicro have all denied any knowledge of the suspect microchips or the apparent government investigation, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry has also released a statement asserting its commitment to the defense of cybersecurity.

Some definitely true China tech stories:

Wǒ Men Podcast: Gu Xi, Female Coding Pioneer (Redux)

Shenzhen Maker Naomi Wu on Twitter Wars, Chinese Tech, and Her Growing Profile

Trade Wars, Attack of the Drones: China-on-China Patent Dispute in US Sparks Backlash

Andrew Little
    Andrew Little is a writer from Dallas, Texas, and currently an intern at RADII. He’s previously written for The Beijinger and been active in the Beijing music scene.

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