On Aug. 28, a Chinese national who had been doing research at the University of Virginia was arrested and charged with the theft of trade secrets while trying to leave the country.
The researcher, who also works at a Chinese military university, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border officials at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as he was trying to board a flight to China. When investigators questioned the Chinese national and searched his electronic devices, they discovered a highly advanced computer code stolen from UVA.
The Justice Department noted in a statement released that week: “A routine screening conducted by authorities revealed that Hu was alleged to be in possession of bio- inspired research simulation software code that he was not authorized to possess, and which represented the result of years of research and resources in its development by members of the University of Virginia academic community.”
Recently, the FBI has dedicated significant attention and resources to uncovering Chinese researchers in the U.S. who might be stealing research secrets. In the past two years, government officials say the sheer volume of Chinese espionage efforts have demanded the U.S. double down on the blatant theft of intellectual property (IP).
In 2017, the U.S. IP Commission Report estimated the total cost of China’s theft of intellectual property is costing the U.S. as much as $600 billion annually. A congressional study suggests that China’s IP theft also has resulted in the loss of American industries and businesses, and more than 2 million American jobs. Officials estimate that about 8% of China’s gross domestic product is directly tied to stolen intellectual property.
China’s playbook is simple, say government officials: “Rob, replicate and replace. Rob the American company of its intellectual property, replicate that technology and replace the American company in the Chinese market and, one day, in the global market.” It is working.
Addressing Congress in November, FBI Director Christopher Wray said American government entities, corporations and universities need to become far more aggressive at detecting and mitigating cyberthreats. No longer can it be assumed that any U.S. network is 100% safe from Chinese espionage. Wray noted that American universities especially need to do far more to protect themselves and their intellectual property. Hu’s arrest last month highlights that. Cybersecurity is everyone’s business.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!