On Thursday, a Chinese national was sentenced for economic espionage and theft of a trade secret from a U.S. company.
According to a press release from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Xu Jiaqiang, 31, of Beijing, China, was sentenced to five years in prison for his crimes in connection with the theft of proprietary source code from his former U.S. employer. According to the DOJ, he intended to use the information to benefit the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China.
According to reports, the former IBM engineer stole a source code for a clustered file system which facilitates faster computer performance, during his time at IBM from 2010 to 2014, according to the Washington Examiner. Xu was arrested by the FBI and admitted that he committed economic espionage crime and theft of commercial secrets, pleading guilty to all six counts with which he was charged.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente said: “Xu not only stole high tech trade secrets from his U.S. employer – a federal crime – he did so both for his own profit and intending to benefit the Chinese government. Xu’s sentence clearly demonstrates that the National Security Division will not hesitate to pursue and prosecute those who steal from American businesses. I thank the many people who worked hard to bring this result.”
You may read the full press release from the Justice Department below.
USA Berman: Xu Jiaqiang stole high-tech trade secrets from a U.S. employer, intending to benefit the Chinese government
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) January 19, 2018
Xu Jiaqiang, former IBM employee, sentenced for selling trade secrets https://t.co/6z1oRxWwOA
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) January 19, 2018
Chinese National Sentenced for Economic Espionage and Theft of a Trade Secret From U.S. Company
Xu Jiaqiang, 31, formerly of Beijing, China, was sentenced yesterday to five years in prison, for economic espionage and theft of a trade secret in connection with Xu’s theft of proprietary source code from Xu’s former employer, with the intent to benefit the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China. Xu previously pleaded guilty to all six counts with which he was charged.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente and U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York made the announcement. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas in White Plains, New York federal court.
“Xu, a Chinese national, is being held accountable for engaging in economic espionage against an American company,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “Xu not only stole high tech trade secrets from his U.S. employer – a federal crime – he did so both for his own profit and intending to benefit the Chinese government. Xu’s sentence clearly demonstrates that the National Security Division will not hesitate to pursue and prosecute those who steal from American businesses. I thank the many people who worked hard to bring this result.”
“As he previously admitted in federal court, Xu Jiaqiang stole high-tech trade secrets from a U.S. employer, intending to benefit the Chinese government,” said U.S. Attorney Berman. “The laws governing economic espionage and trade secrets exist, in part, to protect the sanctity of American ingenuity and property. Xu’s prison sentence should be a red flag for anyone attempting to illegally peddle American expertize and intellectual property to foreign bidders.”
According to the allegations contained in the Complaint and the Superseding Indictment filed against Xu, as well as statements made in related court filings and proceedings:
From November 2010 to May 2014, Xu worked as a developer for a particular U.S. company (the Victim Company). As a developer, Xu enjoyed access to certain proprietary software (the Proprietary Software), as well as that software’s underlying source code (the Proprietary Source Code). The Proprietary Software is a clustered file system developed and marketed by the Victim Company in the United States and other countries. A clustered file system facilitates faster computer performance by coordinating work among multiple servers. The Victim Company takes significant precautions to protect the Proprietary Source Code as a trade secret. Among other things, the Proprietary Source Code is stored behind a company firewall and can be accessed only by a small subset of the Victim Company’s employees. Before receiving Proprietary Source Code access, Victim Company employees must first request and receive approval from a particular Victim Company official. Victim Company employees must also agree in writing at both the outset and the conclusion of their employment that they will maintain the confidentiality of any proprietary information. The Victim Company takes these and other precautions in part because the Proprietary Software and the Proprietary Source Code are economically valuable, which value depends in part on the Proprietary Source Code’s secrecy.
In May 2014, Xu voluntarily resigned from the Victim Company. Xu subsequently communicated with one undercover law enforcement officer (UC-1), who posed as a financial investor aiming to start a large-data storage technology company, and another undercover law enforcement officer (UC-2), who posed as a project manager, working for UC-1. In these communications, Xu discussed his past experience with the Victim Company and indicated that he had experience with the Proprietary Software and the Proprietary Source Code. On March 6, 2015, Xu sent UC-1 and UC-2 a code, which Xu stated was a sample of Xu’s prior work with the Victim Company. A Victim Company employee (Employee-1) later confirmed that the code sent by Xu included proprietary Victim Company material that related to the Proprietary Source Code.
Xu subsequently informed UC-2 that Xu was willing to consider providing UC-2’s company with the Proprietary Source Code as a platform for UC-2’s company to facilitate the development of its own data storage system. Xu informed UC-2 that if UC-2 set up several computers as a small network, then Xu would remotely install the Proprietary Software so that UC-1 and UC-2 could test it and confirm its functionality.
In or around early August 2015, the FBI arranged for a computer network to be set up, consistent with Xu’s specifications. Files were then remotely uploaded to the FBI-arranged computer network (the Xu Upload). Thereafter, on or about Aug. 26, 2015, Xu and UC-2 confirmed that UC-2 had received the Xu Upload. In September 2015, the FBI made the Xu Upload available to a Victim Company employee who has expertise regarding the Proprietary Software and the Proprietary Source Code (Employee-2). Based on Employee-2’s analysis of technical features of the Xu Upload, it appeared to Employee-2 that the Xu Upload contained a functioning copy of the Proprietary Software. It further appeared to Employee-2 that the Xu Upload had been built by someone with access to the Proprietary Source Code who was not working within the Victim Company or otherwise at the Victim Company’s direction.
On Dec. 7, 2015, Xu met with UC-2 at a hotel in White Plains, New York (the Hotel). Xu stated, in sum and substance, that Xu had used the Proprietary Source Code to make software to sell to customers, that Xu knew the Proprietary Source Code to be the product of decades of work on the part of the Victim Company, and that Xu had used the Proprietary Source Code to build a copy of the Proprietary Software, which Xu had uploaded and installed on the UC Network (i.e., the Xu Upload). Xu also indicated that Xu knew the copy of the Proprietary Software that Xu had installed on the UC Network contained information identifying the Proprietary Software as the Victim Company’s property, which could reveal the fact that the Proprietary Software had been built with the Proprietary Source Code without the Victim Company’s authorization. Xu told UC-2 that Xu could take steps to prevent detection of the Proprietary Software’s origins – i.e., that it had been built with stolen Proprietary Source Code – including writing computer scripts that would modify the Proprietary Source Code to conceal its origins.
Later on Dec. 7, 2015, Xu met with UC-1 and UC-2 at the Hotel. During that meeting, Xu showed UC-2 a copy of what Xu represented to be the Proprietary Source Code on Xu’s laptop. Xu noted to UC-2 a portion of the code that indicated it originated with the Victim Company as well as the date on which it had been copyrighted. Xu also stated that Xu had previously modified the Proprietary Source Code’s command interface to conceal the fact that the Proprietary Source Code originated with the Victim Company and identified multiple specific customers to whom Xu had previously provided the Proprietary Software using Xu’s stolen copy of the Proprietary Source Code.
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Mr. Boente and Mr. Berman praised the FBI’s outstanding investigative efforts. Mr. Berman also thanked the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin Allee and Ilan Graff of the Southern District of New York, with assistance from Trial Attorney David Aaron of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, are in charge of the prosecution.