Chinese spies have run off with several large and sensitive files from ASML. This Dutch company is the leading manufacturer of complex lithography machines with which almost every chipbaker makes his microchips.
A few years ago, Chinese spies made use of valuable information from the Dutch company ASML. That’s what Reuters reports to the authority of the Financieele Dagblad. Several employees, all with Chinese names, are reported to have stolen data by 2015 via USB sticks from an ASML subsidiary in Silicon Valley. This data was intended for the Chinese company XTAL, which is also involved in the production of electronic circuits.
In the U.S., a lawsuit was already in progress, the cause of which was espionage. XTAL was fined $233 million to compensate for the millions of damages that ASML would have lost as a result of the theft. A few months after the judgment, XTAL filed for bankruptcy. ASML is sparse with details, but let us know that the blueprints of its lithography machines are intact.
The company headquartered in Eindhoven essentially builds the tools that manufacturers such as TSMC, Intel and Samsung use to bake chips in their factories. Essential to the production process is the lithography, with which the chip is built up layer by layer, nanometre by nanometre. If you read about Deep UV, Extreme UV and how the ever smaller wavelengths of light will drive tomorrow’s chips, then in practice this is about implementations of large ASML machines in a functional production line. In Belgium, imec is working with ASML and partners from the technology world to prepare EUV lithography for mass production.
ASML is by far the leading manufacturer of lithography machines, especially in the state-of-the-art segment. It is therefore a logical target for industrial espionage. Whether the Chinese government itself has anything to do with the leak is unclear. According to Reuters, ASML found no evidence of direct government influence, although XTAL’s parent company, Dongfang Jingyuan, has close ties with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.
Business with China
In the meantime, ASML is doing gold business in the Far East. In 2018, the company’s turnover in China doubled to 1.8 billion euros. This increase is a result of the growing semiconductor market and associated manufacturing in China.
The Dutch intelligence service AIVD has been warning Dutch technology companies of industrial espionage for some years now. China would deliberately choose such companies in the Netherlands, but also in Belgium and other countries as targets.our launch article.