Critical Infrastructure Security, Government Regulations, Industry Regulations

Congress floats measure to block Chinese chipmaking equipment

computer chips assembly line in manufacturing plant, modern electronics production factory

The U.S. Congress is pushing a measure to crack down on chipmaking equipment from China.

The congressional bill would force U.S. chip manufacturers to ensure that the semiconductor manufacturing hardware they purchase is not sourced from companies that were already on the list of prohibited vendors according to the current list of banned vendors that are based and associated with Chinese state-backed companies.

In short, the rule would ban U.S. technology companies from acquiring the machines used to etch circuits onto silicon and produce the chips used in most modern hardware should they come from China.

The aim, lawmakers said, is to foster a strong and trusted domestic market.

“Having a strong domestic semiconductor industry is critical to our economic success and our national security,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman if the House science, space, and technology committee.

“The Chinese Communist Party has a stranglehold on these markets, and it’s imperative that we catch up.”

Dubbed the CHIP-EQUIP Act, the bill would push manufacturers towards lithography equipment made by U.S.-approved vendors and away from those that do business in mainland China.

The proposed bill is significant because there are only a small handful of companies capable of manufacturing chips at the scale and accuracy that modern PC and handset makers demand, but most are based in East Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, and China.

Other lawmakers backing the bill include Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

“Other nations have taken note of these investments and are ramping up their own domestic capacity,” said Lofgren.

“While the Biden-Harris administration has taken needed steps to further strengthen the controls on our semiconductor supply chain and protect U.S. competitiveness in this critical industry, we must continue to be vigilant to stay one step ahead of our adversaries like China.”

While the process of manufacturing chips might not seem to be a significant security risk, industry analysts said there is a possible inroad for foreign agencies to extract data via compromised chipmakers.

“This is very much an existential threat that people are not paying attention to that they need to be,” said Dr. Dustin Sachs, chief technologist with the CyberRisk Alliance.

“Most manufacturers are not accounting for that level of granularity.”

Get daily email updates

SC Media's daily must-read of the most current and pressing daily news

By clicking the Subscribe button below, you agree to SC Media Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.