A tough day at the office: sensitive company info leaked through ChatGPT

The Economist Korea reported on 30 March (article in Korean) that three employees of semiconductor manufacturer Samsung had accidentally leaked sensitive product and company information to ChatGPT over a span of 20 days.

The company had only just given permission to employees in its device solution (semiconductor) business site to use ChatGPT for work related activity. The three leaks included:

  1. An employee pasting confidential source code into the chat to check for errors;
  2. An employee entering test patterns meant to identify defective chips and requesting optimization, which is highly confidential and proprietary information. Optimizing test sequences can help reduce their number and speed up the process, which would also lead to reduced costs;
  3. A third employee submitted a transcript of a business meeting to ChatGPT to help prepare a presentation.

The challenge for Samsung is that once submitted to ChatGPT, the company loses the capacity to control the distribution of this data. ChatGPT is owned by OpenAI, an American company that openly advertises that it uses questions and information inputted into CHatGPT as learning data. As Samsung warned its employees in correspondences after the leaks were discovered, “As soon as the content is entered into ChatGPT, the data is transmitted and stored on an external server, making it impossible for the company to retrieve it. If the content is learned in ChatGPT, sensitive content may be provided to an unspecified number of people.”

The incident reflects one of the risks associated with the use of ChatGPT and large language models more generally. There are others, including the tendency of the current iterations of these programs to “hallucinate” or make up incorrect information.

However, even with these risks being realized, Samsung has not banned the use of the application. Indeed, the company is seeking to better understand and harness the technology for the semiconductor industry, including holding a seminar for executives on 22 February entitled “The Emergence of ChatGPT, the Future Created by Generative AI.”

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