Tesla sues ex-employee over alleged ‘brazen’ theft of confidential code, files


Tesla is suing a former member of staff for allegedly stealing confidential information and attempting to cover his tracks in the aftermath. 

The lawsuit, filed in the US Northern District of California Court, names Alex Khatilov as the alleged perpetrator, a Quality Assurance software engineer. 

According to Tesla’s complaint, only three days after being hired on December 28, 2020, Khatilov “brazenly stole” thousands of files from the automaker’s WARP Drive backend system, as reported by CNBC

The software engineer allegedly stole “scripts” of proprietary software code, related to areas including vehicle development and manufacturing, before transferring them to a personal Dropbox account. 

“Only a select few Tesla employees even have access to these files; and as a member of that group, Defendant took advantage of that access to downloaded files unrelated to his job,” the complaint reads. 

The complaint says that the apparent theft was detected on January 6, 2021. Tesla investigators then interviewed Khatilov, who allegedly said that only a “couple [of] personal administrative documents” had been transferred. 

“After being prompted, he gave Tesla investigators access to view his Dropbox account, where they discovered Defendant’s claims were outright lies,” Tesla alleges. “[…] Defendant then claimed he somehow “forgot” about the thousands of other files he stole (almost certainly another lie).”

Tesla has also accused the engineer of attempting to cover his tracks by “hurriedly deleting the Dropbox client and other files during the beginning of the interview,” leaving the company to wonder whether or not other confidential data may have been stolen, noting that Tesla has “no way to know” if any further leaks or transfers to third-parties have occurred. 

A jury trial has been requested. Tesla is claiming breach of contract and the theft of trade secrets. 

“Access to the scripts would enable engineers at other companies to reverse engineer Tesla’s automated processes to create a similar automated system in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the expense it took Tesla to build it,” Tesla says. “The scripts also would inform competitors of which systems Tesla believes are important and valuable to automate and how to automate them — providing a roadmap to copy Tesla’s innovation.”

Speaking to the New York Post, Khatilov claims the issue is a misunderstanding, with files “unintentionally” moved into Dropbox. Khatilov added that he was unaware of the lawsuit until contacted by the publication.

In 2018, Tesla sued process technician Martin Tripp for leading “gigabytes” of data to outsiders, including “dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems.” For the past two years, Tripp and Tesla have been involved in the legal dispute, ending only when a settlement was recently agreed upon in which the former employee will pay Tesla $400,000.

Last year, Tesla launched a lawsuit against a former employee for allegedly sabotaging operations at the company’s Fremont, California plant. 

In other news concerning Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk this month, the entrepreneur said last week that he intends to contribute $100 million to a prize fund for viable carbon capture projects to combat global warming. 

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