Feds: Apple Engineer on 'Need to Know' Project Took Data, Ran to China

'Disruptive Technology Strike Force' announces 5 similar cases involving trade secrets
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2023 1:30 AM CDT
Feds: Apple Engineer on 'Need to Know' Project Took Data, Ran to China
FILE - An Apple logo adorns the facade of the downtown Brooklyn Apple store on March 14, 2020, in New York.   (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Federal authorities on Tuesday said a former Apple engineer who was working on an extremely secretive project for the company stole trade secrets and then fled to China. Weibao Wang, a Chinese citizen, was hired by the tech giant in 2016 to work on a "robot car" autonomous vehicle project, the Mercury News reports. The following year, he took a job with an Apple competitor—the US-based subsidiary of a Chinese company—that was also working on self-driving cars, but didn't alert Apple or resign from the company for more than four months, in April 2018, the BBC reports. The day after he left, the company reviewed network access logs and found he had allegedly accessed "large amounts" of proprietary data just before his resignation. Wang had been one of just 2% of Apple employees with access to the "need to know" project's databases, and one of only 4% of employees who even knew about the project at all.

Law enforcement agents carried out a search warrant at his home in June 2018 and he said he didn't have any travel plans, but the feds say later that same night he bought a one-way ticket to China and left just before midnight that very day. Analysis of his devices found that he'd stolen documents containing source code for the software and hardware behind the autonomous driving systems, authorities say. He has been charged with trade secrets theft, but the US and China do not have an extradition treaty. The charges were announced along with four other similar cases in which technology was allegedly stolen to benefit China, Russia, or Iran, the South China Morning Post reports. A multi-agency federal “Disruptive Technology Strike Force” is working to combat the efforts of nations hostile to the US to steal US technology secrets. (More Apple stories.)

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