ASML Says Ex-Employee in China Stole Chipmaking Tool Info

(Image credit: ASML)

ASML said this week that one of its former China-based employees stole data about its lithography tools from its product life cycle management program, reports Bloomberg. The data breach is not expected to cause any material harm, though the information may violate the most recent U.S. export regulations. It is unclear whether this information can be used by Chinese entities to build their own advanced lithography equipment. 

"We have experienced unauthorized misappropriation of data relating to proprietary technology by a (now) former employee in China," a statement by ASML reads. We promptly initiated a comprehensive internal review. Based upon our initial findings we do not believe that the misappropriation is material to our business." 

The data was stolen from the Teamcenter software used for product lifecycle management (PLM) of ASML's lithography tools. The program is used to automate and streamline product lifecycle processes by using digital twins and making information available to appropriate employees across the organization. In ASML's case, the repository software hosts all knowledge about ASML's scanners, which is valuable for the company's engineers. 

But in theory, the information available in ASML's PLM database is not supposed to be made available to Chinese entities under the most recent export regulations imposed by the U.S. government in October.  

"However, as a result of the security incident, certain export control regulations may have been violated," the statement reads. "ASML has therefore reported the incident to relevant authorities. We are implementing additional remedial measures in light of this incident." 

What is unclear is whether knowledge obtained from ASML's PLM software can be used by China to build its own advanced deep ultraviolet (DUV) or extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography scanners. Furthermore, it is unknown whether the former employee provided the data he obtained to Chinese government-controlled entities or China-based makers of lithography equipment. 

The U.S., the Netherlands and Japan reached an agreement in January to block sales of advanced wafer fab equipment to China-based entities in a bid not to make advanced semiconductor fabrication technologies — which could be used to enhance the country's military capabilities — available to the People's Republic. For now, it is unclear which tools are set to be banned from being exported to China, but it is expected that appropriate legislations will be finalized in 2023. 

Meanwhile, China Semiconductor Industry Association (CSIA) this week protested the new export controls and restrictions against the country's chip industry. 

"If the move becomes a reality, it will cause serious harm to the semiconductor industry in China, with detriment to the global economy as well as long-term damages to the interests of consumers worldwide," a statement by CSIA reads.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • Why_Me
    This shouldn't surprise anyone.
  • JamesJones44
    It's crazy to me that this type of thing has been happing to all companies working in China for many years, yet, they all still go there like it won't happen to them.
  • thisisaname
    Why steal, just form a joint venture and have them hand the information over. It is what they are doing.