Chinese national charged in US for stealing proprietary software

Former Monsanto employee charged with economic espionage for stealing proprietary software

The US government has charged a Chinese national for stealing trade secrets for China. He was an employee at Monsanto before it was taken over by Bayer. 

"Haitao Xiang, 42, formerly of Chesterfield, Missouri, was indicted today by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, three counts of economic espionage, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and three counts of theft of trade secrets," read a statement from the US department of justice.

Xiang was employed by Monsanto and its subsidiary, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017, where he worked as an imaging scientist. He was stopped by federal officials before he could board a flight to China carrying proprietary software, the statement said.

The company had developed a digital, on-line farming software platform to be used by farmers to collect, store, and "visualise critical agricultural field data" and "increase and improve agricultural productivity".  A critical component to the platform was a proprietary predictive algorithm referred to as the Nutrient Optimiser, which the company considered a valuable trade secret and its intellectual property.

"The revolutionary technology at the core of this case represents both the best of American ingenuity and why the Chinese government is so desperate to steal it for themselves," FBI assistant director John Brown said in the statement.

The case is the latest in the series of incidents where the US has accused China of stealing intellectual property and technology. This accusation has been a major bone of contention between the two nations.

Also read: SC Media UK report from CSC19 Monaco

"Some estimates suggest US corporations are losing nearly US$1 trillion (£777 billion) in IP theft annually and the Chinese government is the biggest culprit. China has some amazing challenges ahead due to population pressure and the impact of climate change on their geography. It makes sense that agriculture and climate are near the top of the agenda in Beijing, along with other strategic industries," commented Sam Curry, chief security officer at Cybereason. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing that China has no objection if the accused has actually violated the law and US is holding a fair trial, but this single instance should not be used as a pretext for accusing China for stealing intellectual property, reported Reuters.

In the threat predictions for 2019, Kaspersky suggested that governments were likely to make greater use of naming and shaming as a response to the alleged attacks by hackers from other countries.

"In the light of the global political tensions, I would suggest perceiving the mushrooming news about espionage campaigns through the prism of independent evaluation and assessment," said Ilia Kolochenko, founder and CEO of ImmuniWeb. 

"Likewise, an indictment by grand jury in a federal case is the very beginning of the judicial process. No presumptions shall be made but the presumption of innocence. From a legal standpoint, the person remains innocent until a guilty verdict comes one day, if ever. Many possible avenues are foreseeable in such a case that will preclude guilty verdict," Kolochenko told SC Media UK.

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