A special agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently filed a criminal complaint before the US District Court for the Northern District of California against a former Apple employee, alleging that the former Apple employee who worked as a hardware engineer on the company’s autonomous vehicle development team stole trade secrets from the company.
According to the FBI special agent, because of the former employee’s role on Apple’s autonomous vehicle development project, he was granted broad access to secure and confidential internal databases containing trade secrets and intellectual property for the project.
After returning from a paternity leave, the said employee, according to the FBI special agent, resigned saying that he plans to move back to his home country and he also plans to work with another company also working in the field of autonomous vehicle technology.
The said employee turned over all Apple-owned devices and Apple’s security then disabled his remote network access, badge privileges, network access and other employee accesses.
The criminal complaint revealed that data from Apple’s security team showed that days prior to his resignation, the former Apple employee’s network activity increased exponentially compared to the prior two years of his employment. On the evening two days prior to his resignation, the employee was shown via CCTV footage entering the autonomous vehicle software and hardware labs and leaving the building less than an hour later carrying a large box.
The criminal complaint also disclosed that in an interview with Apple security attorney and Apple employee relations representative, the accused former employee of Apple admitted downloading data to a non-Apple device, one that’s owned by his wife, because he has “interest in platforms and wanted to study the data on his own.” The accused also admitted to FBI agents of taking files from Apple’s autonomous vehicle development project and transferring the files to a non-Apple digital device, owned by his wife.
Files recovered from the non-Apple device included a 25-page document containing schematics for one of the circuit boards that form Apple’s proprietary infrastructure technology for its autonomous vehicle development project.
FBI agents arrested the said Apple’s former employee at the San Jose International Airport as he was about to leave the country.
Prevalence of Departing Employees Stealing or Leaking Corporate Data
In 2014, a Federal Court of Australia found sufficient evidence that a former employee of Leica Geosystems Pty Ltd copied 190,000 files from the company’s computers the day before he resigned. The files copied by the former employee included numerous source codes representing the core of the company’s intellectual property. The Federal Court of Australia ordered the said employee to pay AUD$50,000 to his former employer as fine for his misconduct.
In 2015, an employee of BlueScope, after learning she was to be terminated, downloaded 40 gigabytes of company documents. The company filed legal actions in the Federal Court of Australia and Singapore to stop the information falling into the hands of its competitors. BlueScope and the former employee reached a confidential settlement. The Federal Court of Australia, meanwhile, permanently restrained the BlueScope’s former employee from using the data that’s in her possession.
A survey conducted by Biscom showed the prevalence of departing employees departing with their employers’ data. The Biscom survey showed the following alarming findings:
- 1 in 4 respondents said they took data when forced out of their job or when voluntarily leaving a company.
- 15% of respondents said they’re more likely to take company data if they’re fired or laid off.
- 85% said they took data they’ve created themselves and feel that is the right thing to do.
- 25% reported taking data that they didn’t create when leaving a company.