Korean chaebol Samsung Electronic's chipmaking arm Samsung Foundry might have been the victim of information theft. Samsung Foundry is amongst the few chipmakers in the world that is capable of manufacturing semiconductors with advanced technologies, and it is slated to kick off production of the advanced 3-nanometer chip manufacturing node later this year. The company's products are not only used in Samsung Electronics' gadgets such as smartphones but they are also used by other companies who submit their designs to the Korean chip firm for fabrication.
Samsung Employee Allegedly Captures Sensitive Chip Manufacturing Information With Smartphone
This news is the latest bit of saga to hit Samsung, as competition intensifies in the chipmaking world. It follows an earlier report of financial fraud at the company, related to its manufacturing process technology efficiency. According to a lone report in the Korean press that surfaced in February, Samsung officials responsible for improving the yield of its 4nm chip process reportedly embezzled the funds allocated for this purpose instead.
It came after earlier reports had cast doubt on the yields of Samsung's 4nm chip process, and strained its relationship with the U.S. chip design firm Qualcomm Incorporated.
Now the Korea JoongAng Daily suggests that a Samsung Foundry employee might have photographed confidential information for the company's chipmaking technologies. The employee is accused of having photographed his computer screen displaying this information with his smartphone while working from home. Additionally, they did not take a handful of photographs; instead, reports in the Korean press speculate that hundreds of trade secrets have been photographed.
The precise nature of the information capture is uncertain, as is the generation of the chip manufacturing technologies involved. However, it is speculated that Samsung's 3nm and 5nm technologies might be involved. These are among the latest in the world, with comparable offerings available only from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) and the American chip giant Intel Corporation.
Samsung Foundry's diagram showing the evolution of a transistor from FinFET to GAAFET and then MBCFET.The 3nm process from the Korean company will utilize GAAFET transistors, which it has developed in partnership with International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). However, Samsung's production efficiency has long raised some questions in the industry for its previous chip technologies. Image: Samsung Electronics
According to a statement given by Samsung to the Daily:
"The person is under investigation for violating information protection rules. But it is not yet known the type of information compromised and whether the person handed it to a third party."
While it lags behind TSMC and Intel in terms of manufacturing computing semiconductors, when combined with its memory division, Samsung is the world's second largest chip company when it comes to contract manufacturers. According to data gathered by the research firm TrendForce, the Korean company was able to rake in $5.5 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter of last year, a figure that nonetheless placed it in a distant second to TSMC which managed to rake in $15 billion during the same quarter.
Samsung aims to manufacture its first 3nm orders during the second half of this year, at the same time as TSMC plans to kick off production of the leading edge chip technology. Both have reportedly suffered yield problems in this area, causing key customers to influence their plans. However, neither have made any official comments in the area. In the chip industry, yield refers to the number of chips in a wafer that pass qualification and quality control tests.