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Christopher Burgess
Contributing Writer

Chinese citizen tries to steal advanced robotic technology IP

News Analysis
May 23, 20184 mins
DLP SoftwareSecuritySocial Engineering

Chinese 'IP lawyer' walks into Medrobotics, fires up three computers and is discovered by the CEO.

Update May 23, 2018

Reuters reports the U.S. Attorney has opted not to prosecute Dong Liu for his attempt to access the computer network of Medrobotics Corp. While no reason was provided, Liu’s attorney suggests the U.S. Attorney was unable to prove that Liu successfully accessed the company’s network and the trade secrets.


On Aug. 28, 2017, Medrobotics in Raynham, Massachusetts, found an unexpected visitor within their corporate headquarters. Dong Liu had managed to get into the corporate spaces and was discovered by an employee of Medrobotics — the CEO.

Liu’s LinkedIn profile, which he attempted to use as bona fides with the CEO, shows he is currently a senior partner at Boss & Young Patent and Trademark Law Office, located in Beijing, Shanghai and Macau. At Boss & Young, his responsibilities include “leading the firm’s Intellectual Property (IP) practice in medical device, bio-tech, clean-tech, and other emerging high-tech areas such as new media. Also responsible for the firm’s IP licensing and transaction services.” That’s quite the mouthful. And apparently “transaction services” includes purloining the IP of others the old-fashioned way, stealing the IP.

Rarely does one encounter industrial/corporate espionage being conducted in such a brazen manner.

According to the criminal complaint filed by the Department of Justice, Liu had been targeting Medrobotics for some time. You see, Medrobotics has evolved the next-generation, robot-assisted devices for surgeons, which permit minimally invasive surgery — their Flex® Robotic System.

How Liu got into Medrobotics and stole the laptops

Liu, according to the complaint, used LinkedIn as his social network of choice to engage various (unidentified) Medrobotics employees. The degree to which he was successful at eliciting information to facilitate his escapades is unknown. What is known is that the engagement did not deter his alleged attempt to steal Medrobotics technology.

On Aug. 27, Liu (a holder of both Chinese and Canadian passports) drove into the U.S. from Canada. The following day, he made his way to the Medrobotics headquarters. Employees noticed him in the lobby at 5 p.m. and again 6 p.m. taking videos of the electronic signage. At 7:30 p.m., the CEO saw him sitting in an adjoining conference room, which was behind the company’s security perimeter (hard line). When confronted, Liu dissembled quickly, saying he was there to meet an employee (who was out of country). Then he offered a name of another employee (who did not have an appointment scheduled). Then he finally landing on the name of the CEO, who was standing in front of him.

The CEO called the police, and Liu was arrested. Liu was originally charged with trespassing, but when the Department of Justice became involved, the criminal complaint evolved to charges for attempted theft of trade secrets.

When discovered, Liu had three laptop computers up and running. Access to the company “guest network” was available to him, as the password was posted on the wall. He said he had been in the room for 2.5 hours.

When arrested and his car searched, Liu was found to have the following items:

  • One white Apple iPhone with a gold Mophile case
  • One black 16GB smartwatch
  • One PNY 128 GB thumbdrive
  • Two Cencux digital camcorders
  • Seven SIM cards, one SD card, and one thumb drive
  • One Apple watch, serial # FMLQ9803GR7M
  • One white Hisense smartphone
  • Two Seagate portable drives – 2TB
  • One Apple MacBook Pro Model A1502
  • Three SIM cards and two Micro SD cards in a clear plastic case
  • One Microsoft Surface 128GB computer, serial # 014881654353
  • One Apple iPad, serial # DLXT702UGMW7

Liu was prepared, technologically, for whatever he encountered at Medrobotics to affect his access to their network. The criminal complaint does not yet identify, what, if any, Medrobotics technology Liu acquired (the investigation continues).

Why was Medrobotics targeted?

Medrobotics’ advanced technology is reason enough, but when one exams the results of the interview with the company’s CEO by the FBI special agent (contained within the criminal complaint), we see that the CEO was cautious about doing business with any Chinese company. He describes how he has been approached by various Chinese entities about six times and took those meetings in Boston. While he does not intend to ever do business in China, he found value in listening to what the various entities had to say.

And there is the rationale behind the brazen attempt to steal Medrobitics technologies. The company wasn’t willing to engage with a Chinese partner, thereby shutting off trusted insider access to the technology by a Chinese technology company. Which leaves us with Liu, apparently tasked with acquiring the technology, for an unidentified entity.

Christopher Burgess
Contributing Writer

Christopher Burgess is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former senior security advisor to Cisco, and has also been a CEO/COO with various startups in the data and security spaces. He served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Cisco gave him a stetson and a bottle of single-barrel Jack upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit, Senior Online Safety.

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