IT was a microchip the size of a grain of rice — yet potentially the most dangerous spy ever unleashed against the West.
Found hidden in the motherboards of Chinese-made servers shipped to the likes of the US Department of Defense and Amazon, they could allow China to remotely seize control of the systems.
From Drone footage to the operational systems of Navy warships — it could have all been up for grabs.
It seems to have been the latest move by the superpower to use its domination of global computer production to give itself a huge political and military advantage.
And now Britain’s top spy chief thinks the security risk is so high that we need to consider banning Chinese tech firms from delivering sensitive IT projects here.
The US, Australia, New Zealand and India are so worried they have already prohibited Chinese tech giant Huawei from being involved in building their countries’ next-generation 5G communications networks.
They believe 5G — ten times faster than 4G — will become a critical part of national infrastructure and security, far too important to be at risk of Chinese involvment.
But Britain has already happily allowed the firm to sign a deal with Three to bring 5G here.
Now the head of MI6, Alex Younger, has declared: “We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms.
“We need to have a conversation.”
Although supposedly independent from the Communist government, there is growing fear Huawei could be in the grip of the increasingly authoritarian President Xi Jinping.
Under laws brought in by Xi last year, owners of Chinese firms — including Huawei — face jail if they do not provide information to state intelligence services.
“Hacking into our computers in the past was one thing, but the emerging danger is that the microchips being built into our telecommunications, financial systems and military hardware might be under the control of another country. Such suspicion is not fanciful.”
Respected magazine Bloomberg Businessweek told in October how an ongoing investigation had found tiny malicious microchips on Chinese-made servers used by the US military and top firms. Although the reports have been denied, Bloomberg is standing by the story.
Meanwhile, Brit entrepreneur Sir James Dyson believes his firm’s intellectual property has been already been swiped by Chinese rivals.
He even accused Chinese students of implanting bugs in computers at British universities to nick research data.
It has been going on for years — in the mid-2000s Red Army hackers got hold of information about our prized stealth bomber, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and put a virus in the Foreign Office.
But Chinese tech firms’ power here has only grown. For example, state-controlled Hikvision is the biggest provider of our CCTV systems.
Dr John Hemmings, of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, says Chinese tech firms should no longer be trusted.
He told The Sun: “The UK Government has to reconsider giving open access to its 5G network to companies like Huawei without serious safeguards.”
Huawei is the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world and makes key kit such as antennas in phone masts. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing on its part, but that may not stop Xi’s cyber units from infiltrating its factories.
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A cyber hack on Britain’s communications network could bring hospitals, transport, police, banks and energy networks to a halt.
The Government is currently carrying out a review of its plans for 5G mobile coverage.
But former No10 security adviser Admiral Lord West thinks we have little choice but to deal with China.
He said: “I am concerned. There is no doubt over time the Chinese have taken a massive amount of intellectual property from us.
“But we can’t just exclude Huawei. They are providing some of the very best 5G kit at a good price.”
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