Tesla Alleges an Employee Stole Gigabytes of Trade Secrets

The company has filed a lawsuit against former employee Martin Tripp for allegedly hacking confidential information and sending it to unidentified sources.

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Jun 20 2018, 5:52pm

Image: Flickr/OnInnovation

Tesla has sued a former employee for stealing trade secrets from the company, and for sending several gigabytes of confidential data to unidentified sources, it alleges.

The Nevada Gigafactory worker, Martin Tripp, admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s manufacturing operating system, according to the lawsuit. He obtained dozens of photographs and a video of Tesla factory operations, the company says.

The incident may have caused CEO Elon Musk to send an all-staff email last week about a saboteur within Tesla’s ranks.

“Tesla has only begun to understand the full scope of Tripp’s illegal activity,” court documents say.

Tripp began working at Tesla in October 2017 as a process technician, where he had access to sensitive information about the company’s battery modules. According to court documents, Tripp allegedly desired a more senior role. Within a few months, Tesla claims, Tripp became “disruptive and combative with his colleagues,” and was reassigned in May 2018.

In June, Tesla says it confronted Tripp about his alleged hacking. The company claims it has evidence of Tripp’s conduct, though the documents don’t say what that evidence is.

Tripp admitted to Tesla that he tried to recruit other Gigafactory employees, the lawsuit claims. And, according to Tesla, placed his software on the computer systems of three other employees.

“So that confidential Tesla data could be persistently exported off its network from these other systems to unknown third parties,” court documents say.

The company alleges that “Tripp made false claims to the media about the information he stole.”

Tesla claims he exaggerated the amount and value of scrap material generated during Tesla’s production process. On June 4, Business Insider reported that “Tesla is blowing through an insane amount of raw material and cash to make Model 3s,” costing the company at least $150 million.

The story was based on internal documents reviewed by the author. We don't know if the Business Insider report is based on the same information Tesla mentions in the lawsuit against Tripp.

According to Business Insider’s report:

Internal documents reviewed by Business Insider showed that the company expects that as much as 40 percent of the raw materials used to produce batteries and driving units manufactured at Tesla's Gigafactory in Nevada need to be scrapped or reworked by employees before they are sent to Tesla's factory in Fremont, California, and assembled into Model 3s. The documents were dated in the first quarter.

Tesla also disputes Tripp’s alleged claims that punctured batteries were used in some Model 3 customer vehicles.

Tesla asked the Nevada court to order an inspection of Tripp’s belongings: “computers, personal USB and electronic storage devices, email accounts, “cloud”-based storage accounts, and mobile phone call and message history to determine the extent to which Tesla trade secrets were wrongfully taken and/or disseminated to others.”

Tesla is also seeking to recover damages incurred, and has not responded to Motherboard’s request for comment.