National security and intelligence officials are concerned security flaws in Intel's micro chips were divulged to Chinese companies, and therefore the Chinese government, before the U.S. government, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
A former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) employee and now president of a private security company, Jake Williams, told the Journal it is a "near certainty" China learned of flaws which "can be leveraged to sneak sensitive data out of the cloud" because Beijing authorities "routinely monitor all such communications" with companies in China.
Intel's chip flaws were identified last June, but were not slated to be released publicly until Jan. 9, according to the report.
A Jan. 3 report of the flaws on the U.K. website the Register hastened a public reveal by Intel, which had not yet revealed the flaws to the U.S. government as planned, a company spokesman told the Journal.
"Intel's tricky path — inform enough big customers to head off significant damage while keeping the information as contained as possible to limit potential leaks — continues to weigh on smaller companies that weren't given an early nod," the Journal's report read.
However, Immunity Inc. chief executive Dave Aitel, whose company sells security services, explained why it made sense for Intel to give an early heads up to a few select large companies before the American government, despite the security concerns, telling the Journal that "They’re going to tell as few people as possible" to contain possible leaks.
And in this way, due to the early warnings, Microsoft, Google and Amazon were able to assure their customers that they were largely protected soon after the news of the flaws was released to the public.
A small group of Chinese companies were alerted, however, setting up the "near certainty" China was made aware of security in the cloud before the U.S., as Williams surmised.
A Department of Homeland Security official told the paper "staffers learned of the chip flaws from the Jan. 3 news reports."
"We certainly would have liked to have been notified of this," the DHS official told WSJ.
The NSA was "similarly in the dark," according to the report, citing Jan. 13 tweets by Rob Joyce, the special assistant to the president and Cybersecurity Coordinator on the National Security Council.
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