Lenovo shares tumble following report about alleged Chinese spy chips

Key Points
  • Lenovo shares tumbled on Friday morning as Chinese technology firms struggled for gains.
  • Shares were down more than 23 percent at one point during morning trade.
  • The decline followed a Bloomberg BusinessWeek report that said data center equipment run by Amazon Web Services and Apple may have been subject to surveillance from the Chinese government. Both American tech companies disputed the report.
Lenovo's brand logo is displayed on a screen before a press conference in Hong Kong.
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

Shares of computer maker Lenovo fell more than 15 percent on Friday as shares in many Chinese tech firms struggled for gains during Asian trading hours.

Lenovo, which is headquartered in Hong Kong and runs an operational center and several research centers in mainland China, dropped 15.1 percent at the end of the trading session. Shares had declined nearly 23 percent earlier in the morning.

The decline followed a report from Bloomberg BusinessWeek that said data center equipment run by Amazon Web Services and Apple may have been subject to surveillance from the Chinese government through a tiny microchip inserted during the equipment manufacturing process.

A chip on a motherboard is amateurish hack, says security expert
Security expert on China's 'amateurish' hack

Bloomberg said the chips, which have been the subject of a top secret U.S. government investigation starting in 2015, were used for gathering intellectual property and trade secrets from American companies and may have been introduced by a Chinese server company called Super Micro that assembled machines used in the centers.

Apple, AWS and Super Micro dispute the report. Shares of the iPhone-maker fell 1.75 percent and Amazon declined about 2.21 percent in Thursday trading.

In a statement to CNBC, Lenovo said that Super Micro "is not a supplier to Lenovo in any capacity. Furthermore, as a global company we take extensive steps to protect the ongoing integrity of our supply chain."

Nevertheless, its Chinese roots may be the cause of Lenovo's Friday stock decline.

"I'm pretty sure that Lenovo is down because it's a Chinese company which provides (personal computers) to many enterprise customers in the US," Leo Sun, tech and consumer goods specialist at The Motley Fool, told CNBC by email. "Therefore, companies will likely choose an American PC maker, like (Hewlett Packard), as a safeguard."

In China, local technology companies are required by law to cooperate with domestic authorities. That has led to growing national security concerns from intelligence officials in the West.

In other Chinese tech names, Hong Kong-listed shares of telecommunications equipment maker ZTE fell about 11 percent.

Amazon and Apple data equipment hacked by China with super small chips, says Bloomberg
Amazon and Apple hacked by China, says Bloomberg

ZTE was embroiled in a controversy earlier this year that saw the U.S. government stop American firms from selling to the company based on its business dealings with Iran and North Korea.

Sun said that ZTE was "being punished" because of the earlier controversy and that it would "probably be targeted again if the U.S. retaliates against Chinese tech companies on the Super Micro news."

— CNBC's Eustance Huang and Kate Fazzini contributed to this report.