Former Apple employee charged with criminal theft of trade secrets

Apple's had another leak and this time it's personal

Apple's had another leak and this time it's personal

The FBI has charged former Apple autonomous vehicle engineer Xiaolang Zhang with stealing trade secrets, claiming in a court filing that Zhang stole data and hardware from Apple while on paternity leave.

However the leak has also raised wider concerns in the industry about tech giants protecting their data from insider breaches, particularly after Tesla also issued a lawsuit against a former employee last month.

Upon his return to Apple at the end of April, he told a supervisor he was quitting to return to China to be near his ailing mother.

Zhang later admitted to taking circuit boards and a Linux server from the hardware lab, and to transferring some Apple files to his wife's computer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in the complaint. Prosecutors accused him of stealing valuable intellectual property before resigning from his position at Google's self-driving auto division. He also admitted to "air-dropping" information onto his wife's computer, saying he needed it for a future position at Apple that he was considering before he announced his resignation. Out of those, roughly 2,700 workers have access to one or more Apple databases containing information about the project, according to the complaint.

Zhang took a trip to China in April of this year, following the birth of his child.

"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously", an Apple representative told TechCrunch. "We're working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions". Hired in December 2015 to work on Apple's project to develop hardware and software for self-driving or autonomous vehicles, Zhang took paternity leave during April and travelled with his family to China, according to the complaint. Zhang explained he had taken the hardware because he thought it would be useful to him on another project.

According to the supervisor, Zhang had "been evasive" during the meeting between the two, and, as such, made a decision to contact Apple's New Product Security Team, which launched an internal investigation. Sixty percent of the data on the laptop was found to be "highly problematic", according to Apple's forensic team. A complete evaluation of the files is ongoing. After he informed his supervisor of the decision to leave Apple, the latter proceeded to call Apple's security officials. He was arrested July 7. The flight was scheduled to depart that same day. Zhang's arraignment is set for July 27 and he has not yet entered a plea. Zhang is facing federal charges of Theft of Trade Secrets, with recommended penalties of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, a $100 special assessment and three years of supervised release.

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