Former SK hynix employee charged with stealing tech for Huawei — Chinese national was arrested at airport

South Korea flag with symbols of justice
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Prosecutors in South Korea have charged a Chinese national who worked in defect analysis at SK hynix with stealing semiconductor technology. The accused allegedly took thousands of pages of information about front-end semiconductor technology for Chinese chipmaker Huawei.

The unidentified woman was arrested at a South Korean airport in April 2024, according to Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police officials. She’s charged with violating South Korea’s Act on Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology. The act imposes tough sentencing laws for anyone convicted of leaking or stealing technology information from South Korea.

According to prosecutors, the unidentified woman began working for SK hynix in 2013. Then, from 2020 to 2022, she worked as a team leader at a Chinese subsidiary of the company. Her role involved analyzing design flaws causing semiconductor failures.

When the Chinese national returned to South Korea in 2022, she allegedly took a position with Huawei almost immediately. Before leaving SK hynix, though, prosecutors say she printed 3,000 pages of A4 paper with solutions to core semiconductor process issues. 

Police suspect the woman carried the documents out of the country in bags to turn over to Huawei. She has denied the allegations. SK hynix doesn’t allow the use of USB storage devices and tracks all print jobs within the company.

When SK hynix learned of the large amount of pages the woman had printed, it reported the anomaly to the police. By then, the Chinese national had already left the country. When she entered South Korea again in 2024, police arrested her at the airport.

Under South Korean law, the woman faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted. The country’s sentencing guidelines are tougher on those convicted of smuggling designated key technologies, which include semiconductor manufacturing methods, out of the country.

South Korea has seen an increase in criminal cases relating to stealing technology on behalf of Chinese companies. In December 2023, two ex-Samsung employees were charged with stealing DRAM technology for Chinese chipmaker CXMT.

Freelance News Writer
  • peachpuff
    Chinese national stealing ip?!?

    Reply
  • Francis412
    in today's IT environments 6 reams of printer paper will draw a competent IT staffs attention.

    Hope it is worth the years in prison
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    Francis412 said:

    in today's IT environments 6 reams of printer paper will draw a competent IT staffs attention.

    Coworkers should have noticed that much printing.

    It seems like in an environment so secure tht USB use is not allowed that the print jobs required to print those reams should have triggered an automated alert. Seems more likely that the print orders were discovered after a tip that caused her user specific user activity to be investigated. Based on the timeline the "tip" was probably her subsequent employment at Huawei and not some crack investigative work. Commercial companies are not prepared to face superpower-level nation-state espionage efforts.

    Francis412 said:

    Hope it is worth the years in prison

    The CCP will kidnap an innocent businessman for use in a "spy trade" in short order. I doubt she sees much time in prison.

    Free trade needs to be with Free countries.
    Reply
  • helper800
    There are so many more ways to take such information covetly instead of this idiotic 10 pounds of paper theft...
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    helper800 said:
    There are so many more ways to take such information covetly instead of this idiotic 10 pounds of paper theft...

    The better ways were probably covered by the existing security protocols.

    There are better ways to leave a prison than by breaking into the sewers and crawling out the drains but they are not easier to access for the inmates.
    Reply
  • helper800
    Co BIY said:
    The better ways were probably covered by the existing security protocols.

    There are better ways to leave a prison than by breaking into the sewers and crawling out the drains but they are not easier to access for the inmates.
    Assuming they allow phones into the building, they could have saved the documents as a PDF and put it on their phone. If the PC that they worked on had SD card slots, they could have snuck one into the facility on her phone and copied the information to that card. There are so many ways much more under the radar than the above that could have been used to do this...
    Reply
  • jonathan1683
    helper800 said:
    Assuming they allow phones into the building, they could have saved the documents as a PDF and put it on their phone. If the PC that they worked on had SD card slots, they could have snuck one into the facility on her phone and copied the information to that card. There are so many ways much more under the radar than the above that could have been used to do this...
    Some high security places do not allow phones and if they do some phone are managed by the company and are gimped so they can't install apps. They have system to detect large data downloads as well or mass printing. There are whole departments dedicated to watching out for all of these things. PCs will have mass storage disabled or USB disabled entirely. He got caught so I am sure they were waiting to see where he was going and he was already flagged.
    Reply
  • ekio
    Huawei is really a shady company...

    It was a good thing the got discredited openly.
    Reply
  • bill001g
    The details on this are strange since it appears there were 2 years between when she did it and when she was arrested. I wonder why they think she physically took the paper out of the country. Would be much less suspicious to take photos of every page and transfer it out with say dropbox or something.

    Huawei has done this crap for years. Where I used to work you could only look at certain documents in special rooms and take nothing in or out. One guy got caught because he would go out to his car immediately after and write thing down from memory. The FBI discovered he was also a current employee of huawei when they looked at tax and visa records.
    Reply
  • tooltalk
    Francis412 said:
    in today's IT environments 6 reams of printer paper will draw a competent IT staffs attention.

    Hope it is worth the years in prison
    SK is f'ed.
    Reply