Former Apple employee charged with stealing autonomous car trade secrets

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 10
Former hardware engineer, who worked on autonomous cars at Apple, arrested at airport, attempting to board a flight for China with company secrets.

Apple Car


Xiaolang Zhang, a hardware engineer who until recently worked for Apple, was picked up Saturday at San Jose International Airport, while attempting to board a flight to Beijing, on his way to Hangzhou, China, the San Jose Mercury News reported. He was charged with stealing trade secrets from the tech giant on Monday.

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.

According to a court filing, Zhang worked on the company's self-driving car initiative, dubbed "Project Titan," as a member of the Compute Team. The group was tasked with designing and testing circuit boards to analyze data ingested by various vehicle sensors, granting Zhang broad access to databases containing trade secrets and sensitive intellectual property.

In April, Zhang left Apple on paternity leave and during that time visited China with his family. Upon his return, he informed the company that he would be leaving and planned to live in Guangzhou to tend to his ill mother. During the meeting, he also told a supervisor that he was joining Chinese electric car startup XMotors.

When Zhang turned in his company-issued devices, Apple noticed unusual download activity, leading them to believe he may have downloaded information illegally. Security cameras and security badge swipe data also placed Zhang in company labs during his paternity leave. Though he initially denied being on company property, Zhang, when confronted, admitted he was in Apple's hardware labs and had taken items including two circuit boards and a linux server.

The FBI was notified, and they searched Zhang's residence. He was interviewed by agents, at which time he admitted to taking files, a process that involved air-dropping documents to his wife's personal computer.

He was arrested after the FBI discovered that he had purchased a ticket to leave the country.

Zhang appeared in court Monday, with a Mandarin translator present; he did not enter a plea.

A LinkedIn profile that appears to belong to Zhang says that he joined Apple in December of 2015 but lists him as still working there as a Hardware System Engineer working on a "high-performance computing HW system." He was educated at Southeast University and the University of British Columbia, working as a Research Assistant at the later university prior to stints at PMC-Sierra and Marvell Semiconductor.

Other interesting tidbits from the article shed light on Apple's car project. According to the FBI, some 5,000 of Apple's 135,000 full time employees are disclosed to parts of the initiative, though not all have access to databases containing sensitive material. Of the 5,000, approximately 2,700 "core employees" have database access, a much larger number than previously thought.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,649member
    Hoo boy.

    Color me surprised.

    (PS: He needed a "translator" after having studied at universities in the US and Canada, and time working as a Research Assistant, then at PMC-Sierra, Marvel Semi, and Apple? Sounds fishy).
    edited July 10 Muntz6502anton zuykovStrangeDaysolsjbdragonpscooter63spinnydronnmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 2 of 27
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,521member
    It is hard. Chinese have been stealing tech secret for long time. It is just rest of the world don't know how much and how!!! Chinese have planted tech stealers in Universities research labs, defense and other high tech corporations,hacking through government sponsored, just every which way you can steal and cripple country like America's future economy.
    You just don't have be worry about Russians but lot more so of Chinese, way more.
    edited July 10 Muntzfox.kenjidanielchowracerhomie3patchythepiratetallest skilanton zuykovStrangeDaysjbdragonpscooter63
  • Reply 3 of 27
    Hoo boy.

    Color me surprised.

    (PS: He needed a "translator" after having studied at universities in the US and Canada, and time working as a Research Assistant, then at PMC-Sierra, Marvel Semi, and Apple? Sounds fishy).
    One can be conversationally and technically fluent in another language, but a subject in legal trouble would do well to have an expert to ensure no details are missed.
    danielchowmknelsonronnleehammgregoriusmrevenanticoco3watto_cobrachasm
  • Reply 4 of 27
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,197member
    1) Project Titan needs its project tightened.

    2) WTF is a $100 "special assessment" fee?

    3) If he's risking all that to steal trade secrets to bring to another car company in China I have to think Apple has some great stuff in works. This article made me hopeful that an automotive
    -related project is progressing nicely.
    pscooter63ronnnetroxwatto_cobraclaire1
  • Reply 5 of 27
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 142member
    wood1208 said:
    It is hard. Chinese have been stealing tech secret for long time. It is just rest of the world don't know how much and how!!! Chinese have planted tech stealers in Universities research labs, defense and other high tech corporations,hacking through government sponsored, just every which way you can steal and cripple country like America's future economy.
    You just don't have be worry about Russians but lot more so of Chinese, way more.
    And this isn’t just one Chinese company stealing from an American company.  This is state sponsored theft.  The American military-industrial complex is hardened against this threat but American commercial companies are only beginning to understand the threat and take it seriously.  Good on Apple that they had the wits to check into this.  Shareholders need to step up the pressure to enhance IT security in all companies.
    patchythepirateracerhomie3tallest skilmacseekerjbdragonspinnydronnanton zuykovblastdoorwilliamlondon
  • Reply 6 of 27
    wood1208 said:
    It is hard. Chinese have been stealing tech secret for long time. It is just rest of the world don't know how much and how!!! Chinese have planted tech stealers in Universities research labs, defense and other high tech corporations,hacking through government sponsored, just every which way you can steal and cripple country like America's future economy.
    You just don't have be worry about Russians but lot more so of Chinese, way more.
    Agreed. He needs more than 10 years in prison though. 

    This is guy was probably a Chinese government spy from the beginning. Something very drastic has to be done about this. Stories like this one have been happening for WAY too long. They steal American technology and later they either show up selling it back to us in their  products (and they get rich from our own work), or using it against us in military weapons.

    Maybe the US should block entry, or severely limit, to any adult person coming from China. Our national security and economic prosperity depends on it. 
    patchythepirateracerhomie3longpathtallest skilmacseekerspinnydwatto_cobraRoyfb
  • Reply 7 of 27
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 1,995member
    fox.kenji said:
    wood1208 said:
    It is hard. Chinese have been stealing tech secret for long time. It is just rest of the world don't know how much and how!!! Chinese have planted tech stealers in Universities research labs, defense and other high tech corporations,hacking through government sponsored, just every which way you can steal and cripple country like America's future economy.
    You just don't have be worry about Russians but lot more so of Chinese, way more.
    Agreed. He needs more than 10 years in prison though. 

    This is guy was probably a Chinese government spy from the beginning. Something very drastic has to be done about this. Stories like this one have been happening for WAY too long. They steal American technology and later they either show up selling it back to us in their  products (and they get rich from our own work), or using it against us in military weapons.

    Maybe the US should block entry, or severely limit, to any adult person coming from China. Our national security and economic prosperity depends on it. 
    Unfortunately there is really no easy solution. Limiting Chinese from coming here, we would lose a ton of money. Chinese tourists spent $33 billion here in the U.S. in 2016. 
    jbdragonmuthuk_vanalingammuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 8 of 27
    Good for Apple. He should put in Jail for life.
    jbdragonspinnydclaire1
  • Reply 9 of 27
    65026502 Posts: 80member
    fox.kenji said:
    wood1208 said:
    It is hard. Chinese have been stealing tech secret for long time. It is just rest of the world don't know how much and how!!! Chinese have planted tech stealers in Universities research labs, defense and other high tech corporations,hacking through government sponsored, just every which way you can steal and cripple country like America's future economy.
    You just don't have be worry about Russians but lot more so of Chinese, way more.
    Agreed. He needs more than 10 years in prison though. 

    This is guy was probably a Chinese government spy from the beginning. Something very drastic has to be done about this. Stories like this one have been happening for WAY too long. They steal American technology and later they either show up selling it back to us in their  products (and they get rich from our own work), or using it against us in military weapons.

    Maybe the US should block entry, or severely limit, to any adult person coming from China. Our national security and economic prosperity depends on it. 
    Unfortunately there is really no easy solution. Limiting Chinese from coming here, we would lose a ton of money. Chinese tourists spent $33 billion here in the U.S. in 2016. 
    The US GDP is nearly $19T, let's not sell out our future and our technology over a measly $33B. Chinese industrial espionage costs us far, far more than that. I work for a tiny biotech company and the same thing happened to us. A US trained chinese national employee stole our technology and moved back to china. Fortunately we sued him and his company and won. Russia is not our enemy, China is. We need to stop training them at our universities (at the expense of American students) and stop hiring them at our companies (at the expense of American workers). We need to also end the H1B and similar visa programs. I've worked with many on these programs and they are not exceptional or extraordinary; mediocre at best, criminals, thieves and spies at worse.
    tallest skilStrangeDaysmacseekerjbdragonpatchythepirateSpamSandwichspinnydronnnetroxracerhomie3
  • Reply 10 of 27
    KuyangkohKuyangkoh Posts: 206member
    Our system had been broken for too long, FIXED IT UP CONGRESS ...
    tourist have nothing to do with employees stealing secrets 
    No media buzz, why?? Oh it’s not russia 🇷🇺 
    tallest skilSpamSandwichspinnydanton zuykovracerhomie3watto_cobrabuzdotsclaire1
  • Reply 11 of 27
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,610member
    The entirety of the Information Security (InfoSec) domain involves implementation of layers of safeguards and best practices intended to prevent or at least reduce the probability of property loss, especially intellectual property (IP), from both intentional and unintentional behaviors. This is a very real problem throughout many industries and is not isolated to any specific countries or societies. Yes, the consequences of IP loss or theft involving countries that do not honor IP rights at either a legal and/or cultural level is much worse.  I would not point any fingers. In fact, property loss has always been a big problem in retail industries, with the largest source of loss coming from internal actors. 
    pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 27
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    10 years is way too short of a time. If anybody hurts Apple they should be in prison at hard labor for the rest of their lives.

    This is a national security issue. Does China really think that they could beat us in a war?

    jbdragonracerhomie3
  • Reply 13 of 27
    zeus423zeus423 Posts: 37member
    I thought the penalties were too lenient until I saw the "$100 special assessment". That will teach him a lesson.
    jbdragonpscooter63watto_cobraJWSC
  • Reply 14 of 27
    65026502 Posts: 80member
    zeus423 said:
    I thought the penalties were too lenient until I saw the "$100 special assessment". That will teach him a lesson.
    I hear they are planning on slapping him with a "double secret super special" $200 special assessment.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 27
    And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how China was able to accomplish its "economic" miracle. It was done primarily via supercheap labour and stealing every IP they could get their hands on.
    tallest skilanantksundaramjbdragonpatchythepirateSpamSandwichspinnydwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 27
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,389member
    6502 said:
    fox.kenji said:
    wood1208 said:
    It is hard. Chinese have been stealing tech secret for long time. It is just rest of the world don't know how much and how!!! Chinese have planted tech stealers in Universities research labs, defense and other high tech corporations,hacking through government sponsored, just every which way you can steal and cripple country like America's future economy.
    You just don't have be worry about Russians but lot more so of Chinese, way more.
    Agreed. He needs more than 10 years in prison though. 

    This is guy was probably a Chinese government spy from the beginning. Something very drastic has to be done about this. Stories like this one have been happening for WAY too long. They steal American technology and later they either show up selling it back to us in their  products (and they get rich from our own work), or using it against us in military weapons.

    Maybe the US should block entry, or severely limit, to any adult person coming from China. Our national security and economic prosperity depends on it. 
    Unfortunately there is really no easy solution. Limiting Chinese from coming here, we would lose a ton of money. Chinese tourists spent $33 billion here in the U.S. in 2016. 
    The US GDP is nearly $19T, let's not sell out our future and our technology over a measly $33B. Chinese industrial espionage costs us far, far more than that. I work for a tiny biotech company and the same thing happened to us. A US trained chinese national employee stole our technology and moved back to china. Fortunately we sued him and his company and won. Russia is not our enemy, China is. We need to stop training them at our universities (at the expense of American students) and stop hiring them at our companies (at the expense of American workers). We need to also end the H1B and similar visa programs. I've worked with many on these programs and they are not exceptional or extraordinary; mediocre at best, criminals, thieves and spies at worse.
    Agree with most of this, except giving a pass to Russia. Both China and Russia can be our enemies, it’s not an either-or thing. 

    But yes, the visa folks I’ve worked with were not extraordinary, either. 
    Solipscooter63ronnracerhomie3muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobraanton zuykov
  • Reply 17 of 27
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,389member
    Kuyangkoh said:
    Our system had been broken for too long, FIXED IT UP CONGRESS ...
    tourist have nothing to do with employees stealing secrets 
    No media buzz, why?? Oh it’s not russia 🇷🇺 
    Boy, a lot of people happy to endorse Russia these days. I wonder why? Ah, cognitive dissonance...
    Soliapplesauce007pscooter63ronnRayz2016muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 18 of 27
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,389member
    nunzy said:
    If anybody hurts Apple they should be in prison at hard labor for the rest of their lives.
    What is your deal? Why do you make such ridiculous statements?
    nunzyfastasleepmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 27
    bellsbells Posts: 82member
    nunzy said:
    10 years is way too short of a time. If anybody hurts Apple they should be in prison at hard labor for the rest of their lives.

    This is a national security issue. Does China really think that they could beat us in a war?

    Well you’d get along right well in China.  Life sentence with hard labor no chance of parol. That certainly isn’t the American way.

    The only way to win a military war against China is to not fight it. Even if you win you lose.

    Further, while I feel bad for the average people this type of theft hurts, I don’t feel bad for Apple the company. Companies like Apple fought hard to get the US government to open trade barriers with a China. They wanted to take advantage of cheap labor and a potential large market to sell to. They were willing to over look the fact China had been stealing trade secrets for years. I still remember the Apple commercial that said the computer was so powerful that the US government wouldn’t let it be exported to china.

    The irony is China has for the most part stolen the trade secrets of all the US companies who moved there, created cheaper knock off products, and created obstacles for companies to compete fairly in China.

    This type of tactic is old school and probably happens on a large scale.


    It it is also said because many skills have been lost to Americans when all the jobs moved over seas.



    spinnydnunzychristopher126h4y3s
  • Reply 20 of 27
    Man, the guy was doing so well.
    What drives a person to do this?  Greed?

    He will likely miss the first 10 years of his new baby's life.  Sad, very sad.
    watto_cobra
This discussion has been closed.