Ex-Apple Engineer Busted for Stealing Self-Driving Car Plans

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 @ 11:07 AM gHale

A former Apple engineer is now facing charges of stealing plans from a self-driving car project.

Xiaolang Zhang ended up arrested Monday for stealing trade secrets from the secret Apple project, according to a copy of the criminal complaint posted online.

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The charge is punishable by 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Zhang was hired by Apple in December 2015 to be part of a team developing hardware and software for self-driving vehicles, a project that was a “closely-guarded secret,” according to the complaint filed by the FBI.

Zhang worked on circuit boards for Apple’s autonomous car division so he had access to highly confidential information including tech bulletins, reports, and blueprints.

In April, however, Zhang took paternity leave going with his family to China.

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 mentioned he planned to go work for a Chinese self-driving vehicle startup called Xiaopeng Motors, or XMotors, in Guangzhou, according to the complaint.

Upon hearing the news, the supervisor brought in an Apple product security team, which had Zhang turn in all company devices, which included two iPhones and a MacBook, and walked him off campus, according to the filing.

Apple security found Zhang’s activity on the company network surged in the days before he returned from paternity leave.

Zhang did searches of confidential databases, and downloaded technical files, the criminal complaint said.

Apple also had closed-circuit camera recording of Zhang going into autonomous driving tech team labs late on a Saturday night while he was on paternity leave, according to the filing.

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 FBI said.

Zhang was “voluntarily terminated” from Apple in early March, and FBI agents searched his home in June as part of their investigation.

Zhang told the FBI at that time he was working at XMotors offices in Silicon Valley, according to the complaint.

XMotors said in a statement it is “highly concerned” and “there is no indication that (Zhang) has ever communicated any sensitive information from Apple to XMotors.”

Zhang was heading to China with a “last-minute round-trip ticket” when FBI agents arrested him at an airport in the Silicon Valley city of San Jose, the filing said.

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