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Former Apple employee charged with stealing company trade secrets

By Rick Hurd • Jul 11, 2018 at 2:00 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A former Apple employee has been charged in federal court with stealing trade secrets from the company, authorities said.

The charges against Xiaolang Zhang were filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of Northern Calfornia and allege that Zhang, a hardware engineer for Apple, planned to take some of the company’s secrets with him when he took a job with another company.

Federal agents arrested Zhang on Saturday, as he tried to go through security at Mineta San Jose International Airport, authorities said. He had purchased a last-second round-trip ticket to Beijing, China, with a final destination of Hangzhou, China aboard Hainan Airlines, authorities said.

“Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said in an email. “We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”

Zhang, who now claims to be working for XMotors in Mountain View, came to Apple in December 2015 to work as a hardware engineer on a team trying to develop autonomous cars, authorities said. Apple has kept that research and development a closely guarded secret, and authorities said Zhang was granted broad access to confidential internal databases.

According to the criminal complaint, Zhang went on paternity leave in April this year after the birth of his child and informed Apple upon his return that he’d be leaving the company to return to China because his mother was ill. He also told his supervisor that he’d be going to work for XMotors, a Chinese startup company focused on electric automobiles and driverless vehicle technology.

When Zhang turned in his two company-issued iPhones and his laptop, Apple’s tech security team reviewed the history on his devices and found that his download activity increased dramatically and included information from confidential files, authorities said. Zhang generated 581 rows of user activity on April 28 alone; in the previous month, authorities said, he generated 610 rows.

Authorities said Zhang also admitted that he “air-dropped” information from his devices onto his wife’s personal laptop.

Security cameras at the Apple campus also caught Zhang in the software and hardware labs during his paternity leave, contrary to the company’s corporate policy, authorities said. According to the complaint, Zhang initially denied to Apple security being on the campus during his leave but when confronted with the evidence, admitted he was there and that he removed items from the labs.

Authorities say Zhang also allowed his wife’s laptop to be examined and that an examination showed about 60 percent of the data was “highly problematic,” according to the complaint. FBI agents interviewed Zhang on June 27, and authorities say Zhang admitted to taking files from Apple.

Zhang voluntarily left Apple on May 5. He surrendered at the airport without incident.

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©2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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