April 22, 2024

Chinese citizen charged with stealing AI technology from Google: DOJ

The alleged theft involved the building blocks of Google’s supercomputing data centers, which develop applications to generate responses to tasks or questions.

WASHINGTON – A Chinese citizen was charged with stealing trade secrets from Google about artificial intelligence technology, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday.

Linwei Ding, who is also known as Leon Ding, was charged with four counts of theft of trade secrets. Ding, 38, a resident of Newark, Calif., was arrested there Wednesday and the indictment unsealed.

Ding is charged with transferring sensitive Google trade secrets and other confidential information from the company’s network to his personal account while secretly affiliating himself with Chinese companies.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could put our national security at risk,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at an American Bar Association conference on white-collar crime in San Francisco. “In this case, we allege the defendant stole artificial intelligence-related trade secrets from Google while secretly working for two companies based in China.”

Google tracked alleged theft in internal investigation

Google contacted the FBI after determining through an internal investigation that the employee allegedly had stolen numerous documents. The company’s security systems restrict employee access to sensitive information, require each device to be uniquely identified and require two-factor identification.

“We have strict safeguards to prevent the theft of our confidential commercial information and trade secrets,” said Jose Castañeda, a Google spokesperson. “After an investigation, we found that this employee stole numerous documents, and we quickly referred the case to law enforcement.”

Theft of technology costs jobs and hurts economy: FBI chief

The Biden administration has been seeking to make it more difficult for China to make breakthroughs on artificial intelligence and restrict Beijing’s access to technology that can be used by its military. The Chinese foreign ministry criticized the U.S. for “weaponizing trade and tech issues.”

Congressional Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to counter China in its military threat to Taiwan or technology to gather users’ personal data such as TikTok.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Ding is charged with stealing more than 500 confidential files containing secrets about artificial intelligence in the race to develop artificial intelligence technology.

“The Justice Department will relentlessly pursue and hold accountable those who would siphon disruptive technologies – especially AI – for unlawful export,” Monaco said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, who has warned that Chinese hackers threaten to wreak havoc on U.S. infrastructure, said the Ding case illustrates the lengths that Chinese companies will go to steal American innovation.

“The theft of innovative technology and trade secrets from American companies can cost jobs and have devastating economic and national security consequences,” Wray said.

What is Ding charged with?

Google hired Ding as a software engineer in 2019 with responsibilities for developing the software deployed in the company’s supercomputing data centers, according to court records. Ding was granted access to Goggle’s confidential information related to the hardware infrastructure, the software platform, and models for artificial intelligence they supported.

The technology that Ding worked on involves the building blocks of Google’s supercomputing data centers, which are used to train and host large models of artificial intelligence, according to court records. The models are AI applications capable of understanding nuanced language and generating intelligent responses to prompts, tasks, or queries.

On May 21, 2022, Ding allegedly began secretly uploading trade secrets that were stored in Google’s network by copying the information into a personal Google Cloud account, according to the indictment. By May 2, 2023, Ding allegedly uploaded more than 500 files containing confidential information.

At the same time, Ding secretly affiliated himself with two China-based technology companies, according to the indictment. One company offered him the position of chief technology officer on June 13, 2022. Ding allegedly traveled to China on Oct. 29, 2022, and remained until March 25, 2023, while allegedly raising capital for the new company. Potential investors were told Ding owned 20% of the company’s stock, the indictment said.

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