back to article Stinker, emailer, trawler, spy: How an engineer stole top US chip designs, smuggled them to China to set up a rival fab

An engineer-turned-spy stole confidential blueprints of American wireless electronics on behalf of the Chinese government to run a rival factory churning out the components in the Middle Kingdom. Late last week, Hao Zhang, 41, was found guilty of economic espionage and theft of trade secrets, as well as conspiring to commit …

  1. this

    Trolled?

    I think you might mean trawled

    1. RockBurner

      Re: Trolled?

      Yup.

      Its funny how written english is changing to suit the verbalisation and assumed speling of wurds especially when dumb spel chekers are involved.

      1. Robert Grant Silver badge

        Re: Trolled?

        I like that people mock spellcheckers using homophonic errors, which are pretty unlikely to occur.

    2. Symon Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Trolled?

      "Haha you stupid [protected characteristic] computer! What do you know about company secrets? Your mom etc. etc."

      Nah, it'd never work.

    3. BenM 29
      Coat

      Re: Trolled?

      not necessarily - Trolling is a method of fishing where one or more fishing lines, baited with lures or bait fish, are drawn through the water.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolling_(fishing)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Trolled?

        True, but from the context in the article it seems more like trawling than trolling.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Trolled?

      the term 'troll' (spelled that way) is just a geeky pun [I thought everyone knew that...]

      Old school gamers should remember "the troll bridge" [another pun and reference to an old kids' tale about a troll and 3 goats and a bridge]. Then 'trawl' sounds like 'troll', making it good PUN-ishment.

      So multi-reference pun "for the lulz". You're welcome. Captain obvious says so.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes"

    Yup, the FBI was so aggressive it even got an email from one Chinese national in China to another. Were these guys stupid enough to use Gmail or something ?

    And then they were stupid enough to come back to the US after having gotten away with it ?

    Goes to show that criminals are stupid, even when they have a doctorate degree.

    1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes"

      Goes to show that criminals are stupid, even when they have a doctorate degree.

      Only the ones who get caught. Even then, they have to be very unlucky too.

      e.g. UK clear up rate 7.8%, and that's of the tiny proportion of crimes that are even reported. Don't know what proportion of crimes are actually reported, but perhaps 1 in 50?

      (Coat icon, because that's not his coat)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes"

      Gmail behind the great firewall? Not likely. Probably the usual PRC backdoored email required everywhere in China.

      That's why if your company has an office in China and that office is on your corporate network, you should assume so is the PLA.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes"

        And if your government mandates backdoors, assume that other governments are in there too.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: "aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes"

          That's the clever bit - once America has the backdoor then none of the bad guys will have one.

    3. Snake Silver badge

      Re: "aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes"

      "Goes to show that criminals are stupid, even when they have a doctorate degree."

      I've said this before, but this story (second one like it in under a year) begs the question:

      Are criminals *any stupider* than the greedy, vapid, self-serving management that constantly seems to hire outside nationals with practically no due diligence in order to save a pound in labor costs?

      That's what I'd like to know.

      1. Claverhouse Silver badge

        Re: "aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes"

        Well, Trump's implementation of a six-month H-1B work visa ban has certainly stirred up the business friendly press, plus the usual suspects of progressives and libertarians who want no borders, but the IT workers who were screaming for action on H-1B abuse have been muted.

        Or is it that Google does not show views it does not approve of ?

  3. lglethal Silver badge
    Go

    Well they've certainly ensured one thing - Chinese nationals or pretty much anyone who even has a Chinese sounding name wont be working in any high tech industry in the west in the future. I already know there is a ban on a number of nationalities working for my firm (China is on the list along with the likes of North Korea, and Iran), and thankfully this is backed up by our local government as we are a "sensitive" industry.

    I'm a little surprised they got the jobs in the first place, as these sorts of bans have been in place for donkeys years, and i hate to say it but they've been backed up by such cases of IP theft on a regular basis. Still it's sad, that will severely dent regular Chinese people's ability to find work outside of China.

    1. Povl H. Pedersen

      Security Clearance

      I think in many places, there is a security clearance needed. Maybe the companies who lost the data here were not defence contractors, and thus where not required to get a security clearance.

      Maybe the FBI / NSA gave them a security clearance.

    2. Schultz Silver badge
      Stop

      "anyone who even has a Chinese sounding name wont be working in any high tech industry in the west"

      I think you are mistaken. There are more than 1 billion Chinese and many more Asians whose name might sound Chinese to you. That is a big talent pool you want to discriminate against. Next you have many USAsians with Chinese ancestors who might object to racial profiling. Finally, there is plenty of corporate spying from all directions, not just from Chinese -- even if the latter are today's favorite whipping boys.

      Painting the world in black-and-white and propagating a us-versus-them culture did not lead to great results in the past. I don't think it'll be a great recipe for success in the future.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Sorry, but no

      You obviously don't work in any high tech center. And especially don't work in the US. The only discrimination against Asians I ever see is by Indians against other Indians (for caste or reagion reasons) and against Pakistanis and Bengals.

  4. Tubz

    Moral of the story, don't employ Chinese Nationals, you can't be 100% they are not dodgy and escape back to China to escape the law !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Isrealis stole the plans for a Mirage fighter from the French and sold it to the Argentinians before the Falklands - the moral of the story don't employ Jews?

      1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

        Erm, both Israel and Argentina bought Mirages from France. Israel developed a modified version, which they also sold to Argentina. The modification was to have been a collaborative effort with France, but the French dropped out.

        Pretty sure that in that case, there was no stealing involved (other than the Argentinians trying to steal the Falklands)

        1. First Light

          You mean Las Malvinas? ;- )

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          > Israel and Argentina bought Mirages from France

          I don't think they 'bought' any - as in actually paid for.

          France refused to sell them arms and so the IAF 'obtained' a set of plans and built them themselves.

          How complicit France was in the 'obtaining' isn't clear - it was trying to compete with the USA as an arms supplier and so was similarly adept at working around it's own embargoes

          1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

            Nope.

            At least not according to every source I checked on web and in books.

            Completely open order, placed in 1959 and subsequently expanded.

  5. W.S.Gosset Silver badge
    Windows

    Cue the...

    China Apologists.

    Frantically flailing their Virtue-Display memes to extinguish yet another outrageous instance.

    1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

      Re: Cue the...

      Queue the chest thumping USians, who see a bogeyman under every bed.

      Look out mate, the USians are coming!

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Cue the...

        *facepalm*

      2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Cue the...

        :D

        I honestly don't think I could have created a more hilarious piss-take on the China Apologist/Useful Idiot than that which you so brilliantly provided. Thank you!

        BTW, I'm not American nor British nor European. I'm from a culture which has had serious major embedded interaction with not just China but many Asian cultures. I'm speaking from 40+ yrs experience, not Virtue-Meme.

  6. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Headmaster

    So what about Chinese non-nationals?

    Asking on behalf of Enquiring minds (I know alot of Chinese people, who weren't born in China. I even married one of them). South-east Asia happens to have alot of racial Chinese around (South Thailand has lots, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia too). Then there's the North West American seaboard which has large numbers of 2nd, 3rd or beyond generation racial Chinese.

    Most of them have very little connection these days to the Mother Country (though my wife has visited the village her great grandfather was raised in before he moved abroad).

    Also what of those from Hong Kong or Taiwan? Things get strange when you're talking the difference between mainlanders and Honkies (blame the wife for that one) who tend to be somewhat confrontational at the moment.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: So what about Chinese non-nationals?

      I have learned don't employ people that were born in America as leaders of your country - they are likely to be complete cockwombles

    2. J. Cook Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: So what about Chinese non-nationals?

      Things get strange when you're talking the difference between mainlanders and Honkies (blame the wife for that one) who tend to be somewhat confrontational at the moment.

      Sadly, in the US, "Honky" means something entirely different, but it's just as bad as far as pejoratives go.

    3. HildyJ Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: So what about Chinese non-nationals?

      What about non-Chinese nationals or non-Chinese non-nationals?

      Industrial espionage, state sponsored and private, is a centuries old tradition. Does anyone really think that Intel isn't trying to "discover" ARM's chip design and chip making secrets?

      The story here is that a person may be brilliant but still lack enough common sense to avoid getting caught.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: So what about Chinese non-nationals?

        One man's entrepreneur is another man's spy. Its just a matter of perspective.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: So what about Chinese non-nationals?

      yeah, none of these espionage things have anything to do with race (according to Captain Obvious).

      it has everything to do with loyalty, and being willing to protect national interests.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: So what about Chinese non-nationals?

        Worryingly I work for a Dutch company, are they going to worry that I'll take their secrets and use them to allow a Great British Industry (tm) to dominate the world?

        1. whitepines Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: So what about Chinese non-nationals?

          Great British Industry (tm) to dominate the world?

          I wouldn't worry until a Great British Industry (tm) actually shows up somewhere.

          I'm going, I'm going!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Find the postit note, find the password, find the plans?

    Check for postits under drawers, desks, and diverse peripherals... and check who has access to the plans...

    One of my past employers donkeys years ago was a chip OEM, and had issues with Chinese factories churning out new chip designs that for some strange reason were not only 100% compatible with OEM parts, but were also visually 100% identical, and were also getting to market before the OEM parts were actually out of the prototype stage... Some of them were also stamped with the OEM logo...

    Also, strangely enough these chips after a few months also failed or discovered bugs and customers were coming back to us with major complaints to discover that a) they were counterfeit and b) the design was based off an official one that was still months from release.

    Corporate security got involved, and there was a massive crackdown in the design office regarding password security, and a cleaning service provider suddenly got several heavies in black suits, sunglasses, bulges under the left armpit and enough legal paperwork to choke a mandarin, turn up to background check and interview a list of employees, with special attention of anyone of Asian ancestry. You may be innocent until proven guilty but when the design office is on an "strategic national infrastructure" register with the Ministry of Defense, all niceties go out of the window.

    I believe that at least one of cleaners was called in for an interview the next morning by her employer, but bailed never to be seen again.

    Corporate security kicked arse in a major way, and discovered several design engineers with passwords taped to diverse parts of their desks. Some disciplinary action happened, but then all went quiet. Some very major (and funnily enough state owned) companies were asked why they were sourcing their kit from anonymous suppliers in China rather than through their direct account with us, especially when it was for use on critical national infrasturcture...

    Anon, even if I cannot choose the black helicopter icon :)

  8. phuzz Silver badge

    "was found guilty of economic espionage and theft of trade secrets, as well as conspiring to commit both crimes"

    It does seem slightly harsh that you can be convicted of both committing a crime as well as planning it, isn't that like being charged with murder, and the attempted murder of the same person?

    I'd assume that the pre-meditated aspect of the crime would be dealt with in sentencing for the 'larger' crime (eg, premeditated murder is treated more harshly than a 'crime of passion').

    1. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

      Could be different actual offenses:

      They stole Trade Secret A and they conspired to steal Trade Secret B.

      (Or, using your example, Someone murders person A, and attempts to murder person B: If you were person B, you'd probably be a tad aggrieved, and want them punished (specifically) for what they tried to do to you, irrespective of whatever punishment they get for murdering person A)

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