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Technology Theft

The Korea Times
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's Time to Tighten Security to Prevent Leaks

It goes without saying that the nation's competitiveness lies in technological advances in the information era of the 21st century. The state, businesses, research centers and universities are stepping up their efforts to develop up-to-date technologies that can serve as South Korea's new growth engine. However, it is highly disappointing to realize that the country has neglected security measures to protect its own technologies.

According to a report submitted to the National Assembly by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the authorities detected 160 cases of technology leaks to foreign firms between 2004 and 2008. The estimated damage caused by the illegal acts during the five-year period totaled 253 trillion won ($216 billion). They included technologies developed by state-funded research centers, universities and laboratories affiliated with companies.

The cases broke down to 73 electronics and electrical, 27 communication, 23 precision machinery, 10 precision chemical and six biotechnologies. This means that core technologies have become the targets of industrial espionage by foreign companies competing with their Korean rivals.

What's more surprising is that researchers or employees ― retired or incumbent ― were found to have made the leaks in return for money, jobs and other personal gain. Bad treatment and poor personnel management were also cited as reasons for selling out to overseas firms. This implies that local research centers and businesses have paid little attention to personal management to prevent their researchers, technicians and other employees from falling victim to industrial espionage.

In October 2007, an ex-executive and a former researcher at the nation's steel-making giant POSCO were arrested for leaking advanced technology to an unidentified Chinese company in exchange for 5 billion won. The case sent shockwaves across the nation as the world's fourth-largest steel maker had poorly managed this valuable asset. Despite heightened alertness over transnational industrial espionage, the number of tech leaks has shown no sign of abating.

It is no exaggeration to say that Korean laboratories, universities and companies have virtually been caught off-guard as far as tech security is concerned. It is urgent for them to make all-out efforts to create a tighter security system to protect their technology. They also have to enforce a stricter code of ethics and set regulations on technology security. Besides, they need to improve the treatment of their researchers and employees in order to discourage them from succumbing to temptation.

Most of all, the government should play a more active role in order to win the war against technology leakages. The prosecution and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) are urged to effectively crack down on cross-border technology theft. Protecting technology is more important than development because the nation's future depends on how they are utilized ― without falling victim to spies.

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