[EDITORIALS]Beware of industrial spiesThe Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office yesterday detained seven former employees of Hynix Semiconductor who attempted to steal the latest semiconductor technology to start businesses in China. According to investigators, the former Hynix officials tried to use confidential information and production line designs to build a factory in China.
Semiconductors, cell phones and automobiles are the key products that our economy depends on even during slumps. If some of the core technologies are leaked to foreign countries, then we will soon lose our competitiveness, and our economy will be threatened.
According to data by the National Intelligence Service, there were five reported cases of attempted thefts of technological information in 2002, and six incidents in 2003. Last year, however, the number more than quadrupled to 26. The estimated damage from those incidents totaled 32.9 trillion won ($31.6 billion), up from 200 billion won in 2002.
Given the number of unreported cases, the actual damage may be even greater.
And the attempts to steal technological information are becoming more diverse and bold. In the past, the proverbial “industrial spies” were most prevalent and did their work in exchange for money. But the accused in the latest case even attracted a Chinese company to invest in a factory they planned to build. Nowadays they even use such methods as buying a company or promoting joint investment. The problem is that their ethical sense is ruined by personal greed. Our technologies are sold to foreign companies too easily, and even essential ones are sold at a cheap price.
This is an era in which we must battle others with technology. The level of a country’s technological sophistication determines a nation’s overall competitiveness. To sell technology is akin to selling the country. This is the logic behind some advanced countries’ decision to adopt new legal measures to hand down more severe punishment for industrial spies.
More than 70 percent of the industrial espionage cases in Korea involve the information technology sector. And more than 90 percent of the spies were either current or former employees of the targeted companies. The government must establish more comprehensive protection for the information technology industry, and the companies themselves must fortify their security systems.