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Tesla sues former employee for reportedly stealing 26,000 sensitive files

Tesla has accused a former software engineer of downloading about 26,000 sensitive files in his first week.

Akarsh Verma | January 24, 2021 | Updated 19:25 IST

Highlights

  • Tesla on Friday filed a complaint accusing an engineer of stealing trade secrets.
  • Tesla said engineer Alex Khatilov was hired on December 28 and began transferring files within days.
  • According to reports, Alex Khatilov has denied the accusations.

In a court filing on Saturday, Tesla, the American electric vehicle behemoth, said that a software engineer transferred about 26,000 confidential documents, including trade secrets, to his personal Dropbox during his first week at the company.

Senior Software Quality Assurance Engineer Alex Khailtov started his job at Tesla on December 28, 2020, and almost immediately began downloading sensitive files, according to Tesla. "Within three days of being hired by Tesla, Defendant brazenly stole thousands of trade secret computer scripts that took Tesla years to develop," Tesla said in a complaint filed on Friday in the San Jose Division of the US district court of the Northern District of California.

The U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers was convinced by the car company that the threat posed is serious enough and granted a hindering order Friday requiring Khatilov to preserve and return all files, records, and emails to the company immediately and ordered to appear before the court, remotely, on Feb. 4.

It's not the first time that Tesla is turning to the court from protecting its trade secrets from former employees who allegedly stole important information. The electric-car maker of Elon Musk has aggressively followed lawsuits against all the other former employees and rival companies that it is a plan of poaching engineers and stealing important data.

Tesla is suing Khaitov, accusing him of stealing trade secrets and confidential information, along with breaching his contract. Khatilov was fired when internal investigators discovered the file transfers, according to Tesla. The company said it detected Khatilov's downloads on January 6.

Khatilov gave company investigators access to his Dropbox, saying he'd only transferred "a couple of personal administrative documents," according to Tesla. Tesla said its investigators viewed his Dropbox account. They discovered his "claims were outright lies," saying he'd transferred "thousands and thousands" of Tesla's computer scripts to his personal Dropbox.

Tesla said: "Then, he lied about it and tried to delete the evidence of his theft when quickly confronted by Tesla's security team, forcing Tesla to bring this complaint."

On Friday, Khatilov spoke to The New York Post, saying, "I've been working for, like, 20 years in this industry, and I know what sensitive documents are about, and I never, ever tried to access any of those, or steal it." The New York Post said Khatilov learned of the lawsuit from its reporter. An interview request sent by Insider to Khatilov's personal email address was not immediately returned on Saturday.

Tesla is looking for damages to be determined at trial and an injunction to block the defendant from sharing any information with other parties.

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