More than 20 cases of trade secret theft discovered in nationwide crackdown

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Nov. 15, 2023 7:38PM GMT+9

The South Korean police conducted a nationwide operation to capture criminals who passed trading secrets overseas, discovering more than twenty cases of alleged technology theft, according to the Korean National Police Agency on Wednesday.

In a press release, the National Office of Investigation of the KNPA revealed the result of their nine-month investigation aimed at cracking down on criminals accused of stealing trade secrets. During the massive operation — from February to October — the “Special Probe against Criminal Activities that Threaten Economic Security” investigators discovered twenty-one cases of alleged violations of the country’s trade secret and industrial technology protection law. This marks the highest prevalence of this type of crime in the past ten years and a 75% increase compared to last year’s rate, police explained.

The KNPA stated that the criminals stole confidential technology from various industries, including sensitive information about displays, semiconductors, shipbuilding, and robotics. The suspects allegedly conducted unauthorized transmissions of these secrets to countries such as China, Taiwan, Japan, the United States, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, and Australia.

The police disclosed a tranche of information on ten major cases, among which is a case where five individuals were detained and accused of stealing the country’s core technology, such as liquid-crystal display manufacturing secrets, and trying to transfer them abroad.

In addition, the Gyeongnam Provincial Police arrested five individuals for leaking confidential information acquired from a defense contractor. One of the suspects, police stated, was a former high-level official in a company that was targeted by industrial spies. In all, police seized 18 million won ($14,000) from the suspects.

This is the first time the South Korean police have conducted a special operation to investigate technology leaks in the defense industry. The National Security Investigation Bureau of the KNPA said to The Readable that they could disclose no further details, as the cases are ongoing investigations in the prosecutor’s office.

South Korea is expending much energy and resources into protecting the country’s trade secrets on core technology, such as displays and semiconductors, considering the theft of such information a threat to national security. The South Korean police were able to pursue investigations of industrial theft through provincial police departments. They were able to accomplish this by elevating the organization from the level of unit to that of team in August of this year.

Furthermore, on November 8, the Office of the President announced a plan to form an intergovernmental response organization dedicated to countering technology leaks, and that this organization will include the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang. This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.