TSMC’s EUV machines are equipped with a remote self-destruct in case of an invasion

TSMC Fab
(Image credit: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd.)

TSMC is one of the largest chip makers globally, even beating Intel and Samsung by revenue numbers. And its location in Taiwan is a potential hotspot between the U.S. and China, especially as China (the PRC) considers Taiwan (the ROC) an integral part of its territory. With the regional superpower not discounting a military invasion of the island, the U.S. wants to ensure that TSMC’s chip-making capabilities won't fall into the PRC's hands. Thus, reports indicate that TSMC's EUV machines (made by ASML) have a remote kill switch fitted, for security.

Just last year, U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton suggested that the U.S. might bomb TSMC facilities in Taiwan if China invaded. However, the Taiwanese government said that it would defend the company against any form of aggression from anyone — including the United States. The Taiwan Security Bureau even said that destroying TSMC’s facilities is an unnecessary move, as producing high-end chips requires more than just the factories.

“TSMC needs to integrate global elements before producing high-end chips,” says Chen Ming-tong, director-general of the Taiwanese National Security Bureau (via Bloomberg). “Without components or equipment like ASML’s lithography equipment, without any key components, there is no way TSMC can continue its production.”

Nevertheless, geopolitical issues typically go beyond the business sense. So, even if China knows that capturing these advanced foundries from Taiwan and the U.S. is a futile endeavor, the thought of depriving its primary competitor of the latest chips could be enough motivation to execute a special military operation to ‘liberate’ TSMC. This is especially true as the U.S. said that a Chinese seizure of the company and its facilities would be devastating for the American economy.

Because of this threat, TSMC and ASML, currently, the only supplier of tools that could make cutting-edge 2nm chips, have added a ‘kill switch’ that will disable TSMC’s EUV machines remotely. According to Bloomberg, the latter added this feature to assuage U.S. fears that the former’s chipmaking capabilities could fall into the wrong hands if war breaks out in East Asia.

The U.S. has been hard at work trying to limit China’s technological progress, especially in the semiconductor industry. Washington has blacklisted several Chinese companies from acquiring advanced tech due to fears that the communist PLA will use them to further its military might. The White House also recently placed severe tariffs on several Chinese imports to protect its own investments with the CHIPS Act.

Nevertheless, Chinese President Xi Jinping is still adamant that it can continue its technological development with or without U.S. sanctions. Although the country still lags behind in cutting-edge processors, China is already a powerhouse in legacy chip production. Furthermore, the Chinese government is continuously supporting local companies to develop homegrown tech that makes them resistant to external actions.

Aside from ASML’s and TSMC’s latest move to protect American interests, the U.S. has also invested billions of dollars in the latter to move its chip production to North America. TSMC is also building facilities in Japan, which could help protect it from China’s ambitions in Taiwan.

All these moves are a part of the U.S.-China trade war, as the former attempts to limit the latter’s ambitions of becoming a global power. While Washington’s moves are slowing Beijing’s efforts to achieve technological superiority, it’s also pushing the Asian power to innovate and work around the limits it’s facing. While China’s homegrown chips are currently several generations behind Intel and AMD’s products, they’re taking leaps and strides in advancements, and we may soon face Chinese technology that is similar or even superior to what the West has to offer.

Freelance News Writer
  • Notton
    The first rule of remote self-destruct devices is to not mention it openly.
    Now it's a security risk if someone hacks into it.
    Unless we are playing some 4D-chess mind games and there isn't one...
    Reply
  • usertests
    Notton said:
    The first rule of remote self-destruct devices is to not mention it openly.
    Now it's a security risk if someone hacks into it.
    Unless we are playing some 4D-chess mind games and there isn't one...
    Depends on the trigger mechanism.

    For their purposes, they probably want the relevant party to know:

    aLQCwVkhFvM
    Reply
  • AngelusF
    Chinese invasion fleet sets sail.
    ASML machines self-destruct.
    Invasion fleet turns back, job done.
    Reply
  • Dante'sfired
    So all the Chinese have to do it figure out how to Faraday cage the kill switch with a commando team before the invasion and they bypass the kill switch.

    However without ASML support the Chinese will have to re engineer one of the most expensive and complicate machines the world has ever produced. All the parts they need will be impossible to get- ASML controls the entire process of building the machine
    Reply
  • ivan_vy
    China no need for takeover TSMC but to disable the supply chain for US chips.
    this is more fear mongering, warhawks are fanning the flames of war, China is producing cheap 14 and 16nm,soon mass producing 7nm and 5nm, not every consumer need cutting edge tech. Military industrial complex are eager for the next big conflict. War is not good for everyone else.
    Reply
  • endocine
    If the machines are so sensitive, why export them to anyone in the first place? Its not like China doesn't already have thru industrial espionage all the plans for the machines anyway
    Reply
  • ingtar33
    Notton said:
    The first rule of remote self-destruct devices is to not mention it openly.
    Now it's a security risk if someone hacks into it.
    Unless we are playing some 4D-chess mind games and there isn't one...
    no, this is deterrence.

    the fear Taiwan lives under is invasion from mainland China. the fear the USA lives under is all those chip fabs falling into Chinese hands. this "deterrence" serves both Taiwan and US interests. And there is no point to installing these devices if you don't plan to let the chicoms know about them. else they'll lose their value as deterrence.

    one of the few things keeping the Chinese back is the fear the chicoms have of destroying the chip making infrastructure in the invasion. those fabs are worth way more to China then Taiwan itself.

    besides i doubt there is actually a kill switch for this. i'm willing to bet the US military plans to turn all of Taiwan's fabs into craters in the ground in the event of a Chinese invasion. So while the kill switch probably doesn't exist the lie of it's existence serves the same purpose. especially since the USA probably has plenty of plans for how to turn those fabs into craters.
    Reply
  • ingtar33
    endocine said:
    If the machines are so sensitive, why export them to anyone in the first place? Its not like China doesn't already have thru industrial espionage all the plans for the machines anyway
    we don't export them. these machines were developed by Taiwan

    in fact Taiwan has secured US military support by enforcing US trade embargos against allowing any chip making tech making it to china.

    the "cold war" over chips has been raging since the 80s... and it's a fascinating one. Taiwan saw chip making business as it's key to national security, so they've made themselves the world leaders in chip fabs, and then mercilessly enforced US trade sanctions and embargos against china in order to become a strategic partner with the USA.
    ivan_vy said:
    China no need for takeover TSMC but to disable the supply chain for US chips.
    this is more fear mongering, warhawks are fanning the flames of war, China is producing cheap 14 and 16nm,soon mass producing 7nm and 5nm, not every consumer need cutting edge tech. Military industrial complex are eager for the next big conflict. War is not good for everyone else.
    china's chip fabs are <Mod Edit> in comparison to TSMC, they have major need for that tech. and unlike american fabs, where i doubt security is taken seriously, in Taiwan it's treason with a death penalty attached for leaking any of this information to mainland china. Taiwan knows it's security, assured by the USA, is highly dependent on how seriously they work to prevent chip fab eq or knowledge getting to mainland china. so they take is very seriously.
    Reply
  • Makaveli
    Notton said:
    The first rule of remote self-destruct devices is to not mention it openly.
    Now it's a security risk if someone hacks into it.
    Unless we are playing some 4D-chess mind games and there isn't one...
    This.

    they better hope that cannot be hacked because some script kiddie will blow up TSMC for the lulz.
    Reply
  • palladin9479
    ingtar33 said:
    no, this is deterrence.

    the fear Taiwan lives under is invasion from mainland China. the fear the USA lives under is all those chip fabs falling into Chinese hands. this "deterrence" serves both Taiwan and US interests. And there is no point to installing these devices if you don't plan to let the chicoms know about them. else they'll lose their value as deterrence.

    one of the few things keeping the Chinese back is the fear the chicoms have of destroying the chip making infrastructure in the invasion. those fabs are worth way more to China then Taiwan itself.

    besides i doubt there is actually a kill switch for this. i'm willing to bet the US military plans to turn all of Taiwan's fabs into craters in the ground in the event of a Chinese invasion. So while the kill switch probably doesn't exist the lie of it's existence serves the same purpose. especially since the USA probably has plenty of plans for how to turn those fabs into craters.

    Oh the remote slag capability definitely exists and is easy to implement. Small amount of thermite in critical locations with a trigger tied to a long access code that can only be sent over a secure network, and secure as in no internet connection.

    And yes it's a deterrent, as long as there is even a small chance those ridiculously expensive and exclusive devices from ASML (based in Netherlands) will self destruct, China will not take any offensive action.

    That region is so critical to US National Defense that an entire fleet has been permanently forward deployed to that region. 7th Fleet contains CTF70/CSG5 which has enough firepower to flatten a small country and give a medium / large country a serious heartburn with two Guided Missile Cruisers and nine Guided Missile Destroyers. The cruisers each contain 122 missile pods and each pod contains a missile that can have 12~16 warheads. Each destroyer carries 96 of the same missile system. There are also an unspecified number of submarines assigned to that group that are also equipped with that same missile system. An unspecified number of those devices are nuclear equipped. CTF70/CSG5 is probably the most overequipped unit on the planet.

    https://www.surfpac.navy.mil/Ships/Carrier-Strike-Group-5-COMCARSTRKGRU-FIVE/About-Us/
    Reply