Tuesday 27 July 2021

Chinese spies steal secrets from Dutch chip maker ASML: FD

Photo: ASML

Chinese spies have stolen a large number of company secrets from chip machinery maker ASML, the Financieele Dagblad said on Thursday.

The spies were highly placed R&D workers who had indirect ties to the Chinese ministry of science and technology and were able to get away with source codes, software, price strategies and secret user manuals, the paper said. It bases the claims on its own research and Californian court documents.

The paper says the theft took place at the Dutch firm’s operations in San Jose in the US and was orchestrated by competitor XTAL, which was established by former ASML workers in 2014. A year later XTAL was able to lure away ASML clients such as Samsung.

The FD research shows that XTAL’s Chinese parent company Dongfang Jingyuan has ties to the Chinese ministry and had been given subsidies for a project aimed at boosting China’s position in the chip machinery market. ASML is currently world leader.

The paper points out that the scandal comes at a sensitive time for the government, which is currently trying to draw up a formal strategy to deal with Chinese economic interests.

Earlier this month, the AIVD security service warned about the risks of using Chinese equipment for crucial infrastructure and said digital attacks and espionage by countries such as China, Iran and Russia pose a real threat.

However, the FD says, China is an important market for ASML and has enormous growth potential.  Nevertheless, senior company officials are concerned about the Chinese approach to intellectual property, the paper said.

Neither XTAL or Dongfang Jingyuan were willing to comment on the claims, the FD said.

At the end of 2018, a court in California ordered XTAL to pay $233m in damages to ASML after ASML took the company to court for the ‘misappropriation of trade secrets’. The ruling has been low profile until now, the paper said.

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