FBI arrests ex-Apple engineer who stole autonomous car trade secrets

  11 July 2018    Read: 1093
FBI arrests ex-Apple engineer who stole autonomous car trade secrets

Apple has filed charges against Xiaolang Zhang, one of its former hardware engineers, after he admitted to stealing trade secrets and intellectual property from the firm’s secretive autonomous car division. Zhang told investigators he downloaded the files and AirDropped them onto his wife’s personal laptop with the intent of providing them to a Chinese start-up.

Zhang worked on circuit boards for Apple’s autonomous car division so he had access to highly confidential information including tech bulletins, reports, and blueprints. The criminal complaint filed in court explains he announced his resignation in April and said he planned to move back to China to take care of his sick mother, according to The Mercury News. He also told his supervisors he had accepted a position at a four-year old automaker named Xiaopeng Motors. The company remains relatively obscure outside of China but it’s financially backed by well-known names like Alibaba and Foxconn.

Apple’s security officials asked Zhang to turn in his two work-issued iPhones and his MacBook after he announced his resignation. They launched an investigation into his activities online and realized he had downloaded an immense amount of data in the days leading up to his resignation. Suspicious, they examined footage from security cameras and, according to court documents obtained by The Verge, saw him leaving his lab with a large box containing circuit boards and a Linux server, cables, and a keyboard on April 28th.

The complaint notes investigators found most of his network activity “consisted of both bulk searches and targeted downloading copious pages of information from the various confidential database applications.” Summoned back to Cupertino, Zhang quickly admitted to downloading the files and transferring them to his wife’s laptop. Investigators call a full 60 percent of the data stored on the computer “highly problematic.” It includes information about topics such as prototypes, power requirements, battery systems, and drivetrain suspension mounts.

He voluntarily left his position at Apple on May 5th. The FBI searched his home on June 27th; what they found, if anything, hasn’t been made public yet. Federal agents arrested Zhang on July 7th, 2018, as he went through a security checkpoint at the San Jose airport. Officials say he had recently purchased tickets to Hangzhou, China, via Beijing. If found guilty, he’ll face up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Ride-sharing giant Uber recently settled a similar case for $245 million. In 2017, Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber claiming ex-engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded confidential files about autonomous car technology before leaving the company to establish a firm named Otto. Uber quickly purchased Otto and, according to Waymo’s lawyers, received the valuable files stolen by Levandowski as part of the deal. When it announced the settlement, Uber pledged to learn from past mistakes but never admitted wrongdoing.

 

Read the original article on digitaltrends.com.


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