Ex-Apple employee nabbed while fleeing US after stealing trade secrets
A former Apple employee in the US has been arrested for allegedly stealing trade secrets from the company and trying to sell it to an Alibaba-backed Chinese firm. Xiaolang Zhang was nabbed after he had passed security check at the San Jose International Airport, California, while trying to leave the country. He now faces 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.
Zhang used to work in Apple's autonomous car division
Zhang, who remained with Apple from December'15 to May'18, was a member of the compute team in the company's autonomous car project. His job was to design and test circuit boards. In April, he returned from a month of paternity leave and submitted his resignation, saying he had to tend to his ailing mother in China, and was joining Xiaopeng Motors, an electric car startup.
His devices then revealed unexpected records
After Zhang submitted his two work phones and a laptop, the security division checked his devices. What they found shocked them: Zhang's network activity "increased exponentially" in his last days. He had generated 581 rows of user activity on April 28 alone, compared to 610 in the whole of March. Most of that activity was "targeted downloading copious pages of information" from confidential databases.
CCTV footage nailed him further
Checking CCTV footage, the team saw Zhang leaving the autonomous vehicle lab on April 28 carrying a "computer keyboard, some cables, and a large box." He also took circuit boards and a Linux server. But "the single file" that "serves as the basis for the instant criminal charge" was a 25-page blueprint of a circuit board, which he allegedly downloaded into a personal computer.
After Zhang confessed, he was "voluntarily terminated"
Incidentally, on April 28, Zhang was supposed to be on paternity leave. On May 1, the team confronted him and he confessed. He said he had taken the hardware because he was planning to transfer to another division in Apple and needed the information. A search on his laptop yielded 40GB of data, 60% of which was "highly problematic." He was "voluntarily terminated" on May 5.
FBI searched his house, then nabbed him from the airport
Apple then alerted the FBI, and the Bureau searched his home on June 27. When they asked, Zhang admitted to the same things he had told Apple. On July 7, the FBI found out that he had bought a round-trip ticket from San Jose, California to Beijing, China. Federal agents then arrested him at the airport.
A statement from Apple
"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously. 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," Apple said in a statement
Xpeng, which Zhang was to join, is backed by Alibaba
Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology, or simply Xpeng, was established in 2014 by entrepreneur He Xiaopeng, shortly after Xiaopeng's mobile business, UCWeb, was acquired by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In January, Xpeng raised $350mn in Series A financing, led by Alibaba and Foxconn. Alibaba is now leading a new financing round which would value Xpeng at $4bn.