Tesla accuses engineer of stealing crucial company software

The worker allegedly stole software within days of taking the job.

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SHANGHAI, Oct. 26, 2020 -- Photo taken on Oct. 26, 2020 shows the Tesla China-made Model 3 vehicles at its gigafactory in Shanghai, east China. U.S. carmaker Tesla announced Monday that it will export 7,000 vehicles of made-in-China Model 3 to Europe on Tuesday.
    The batch of sedans is expected to arrive at the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium by sea at the end of November, before being sold in European countries including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland.
    Tesla delivered the first batch of made-in-China Model 3 sedans to the public earlier this year, one year after the company broke ground on its first overseas plant. (Photo by Ding Ting/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Ding Ting via Getty Images)
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Tesla is no stranger to allegations of staff stealing its technology, but its latest case may be particularly brazen if true. As Electrek has learned, the EV maker has sued engineer Alex Khatilov for allegedly stealing the company’s custom Warp Drive software (used to automate purchasing and other systems) within three days of starting the job in late December 2020. Khatilov reportedly copied “thousands” of Warp Drive-related script files to his personal Dropbox account.

The company also accused Khatilov of trying to cover up his actions. He reportedly lied about having only transferred personal documents when investigators grilled him, and claimed he “forgot” about the files when he gave investigators access to his Dropbox space. The engineer even tried to delete the Dropbox app and other files at the start of the interview, Tesla said.

Tesla didn’t say if it believed Khatilov had coordinated with others. However, it warned that it “did not uncover” all of Khatilov’s actions, and that he might still be sharing Tesla’s files. The staffer had to work remotely due to the pandemic, making it difficult to verify that the files had been deleted.

The automaker has been highly protective of its technology in the past, having sued Rivian and Zoox for allegedly hiring recruits who brought Tesla secrets with them. That’s on top of suing individuals like Martin Tripp, who Elon Musk called a “saboteur.” Khatilov’s case, if true, is only likely to heighten Tesla’s concerns about trade secret theft — if people sign up just to steal automation tools, Tesla may feel justified in jealously protecting its all-important EV and self-driving technology.

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