It seems that the act of stealing valuable secrets from their employers is on the rise. Today the Reuters informed that the newest victim of the ?internal coup? was Apple, which had plans for the Titan Project (your secretssimo autonomous car system) stealthily stolen by an employee. Or rather, now a former employee.
The story revolves around Xiaolang Zhang, who was hired in December 2015 by Ma to work on Project Titan’s hardware and software team more specifically, the engineer was part of the team that tested circuit boards to analyze sensor data and had access to confidential databases due to relatively high position in the project.
That’s where it started to degringolar: last April, Zhang took a period of paternity leave and, in the middle of it, met with his superiors to inform that he would be leaving Apple shortly after his return, to work at startup Chinese autonomous car XMotors. The meeting made the chiefs’ eyebrows raise: apparently, the engineer seemed ?evasive? and ?on the defensive? during the conversation, which ended up raising suspicions.
A team of Apple analysts then did a careful search on the Mac and the two iPhones used by Zhang as corporate devices, which he had just returned. It was found that Mac’s network activity, specifically, peaked on April 28, when he was on paternity leave; Security cameras also indicated that the engineer was on the company’s campus on that day (which is forbidden for licensed employees) and paid a ?visit? to the hardware and software labs.
In a later statement, the engineer revealed that he transferred several confidential files from Project Titan’s database that day, including protected intellectual property, engineering schemes, technical reference data and network data with exchanges of messages between the engineers involved in the project. He passed several of these files over AirDrop to his wife’s personal MacBook and intended to take them to his new job.
Federal agents arrested Zhang at San Jose International Airport (California) last Saturday as he tried to buy a last-minute ticket to Beijing. The engineer began by denying the accusations, but when confronted with the images from the security cameras, he admitted the crime. Now, he awaits trial and faces up to ten years in prison for theft of intellectual property, as well as a fine of up to $ 250,000 (almost R $ 1 million).
Update 06/11/2018 s 14:45
As reported by Reuters, a XMotors Chinese autonomous vehicle company where Zhang was going to work claims to have received no secret information from the engineer from Apple. He was, of course, already disconnected from the startup.
Ma, in turn, issued an official statement about the episode but without leaving its usual script:
Apple takes its confidentiality and the protection of its intellectual property very seriously. We are working with authorities on this issue and will do everything possible to make sure that this individual and any other individuals involved are held responsible for their actions.
Just as an addendum, this tweet in Neil Cybart of the Apple dedicated blog Above Avalon brings an interesting analysis:
Some juicy Titan details found in the criminal complaint.
– 5,000 Apple employees have been disclosed on Project Titan. – 2,700 Apple employees have access to Project Titan Databases.
Huge numbers pointing to Titan being much larger than most people assume.
– Neil Cybart (@neilcybart) July 10, 2018
Some interesting details about Project Titan revealed in the criminal complaint:
– 5,000 Apple employees have already been informed about the Titan Project. – 2,700 Apple employees have access to the Project databases.
Huge numbers that point to the probability that the Titan is much higher than most people think.
Will we see news about Ma’s autonomous car system in the near future? Let us wait.