Content, Breach

Tesla Sues Former Employee For IP Theft; Defendant Claims He’s a Whistleblower

Electric car maker Tesla has sued a disgruntled former employee it claims wrote code to break into its manufacturing operating system. The alleged hacker, Martin Tripp, subsequently transmitted “several gigabytes” of confidential and trade secret information to outsiders, the company claims. According to a report in the Washington Post, Tripp says he was a whistleblower, who was dismayed by the company's practices.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Nevada, further alleges that Tripp sent “dozens” of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems to unidentified third parties. The complaint specifically states that as part of his job Tripp had access to proprietary information, including "certain facets of the manufacturing process for the company's battery module."

At this point, Tesla has “only begun to understand the full scope of Tripp’s illegal activity,” the lawsuit reads. The automaker also has accused Tripp of writing code to occasionally lift data off its network and send it to outsiders. He also took measures to ensure the hacks would continue after he left the company and pin responsibility on other workers, the suit alleges.

“His hacking software was operating on three separate computer systems of other individuals at Tesla so that the data would be exported even after he left the company and so that those individuals would be falsely implicated as guilty parties,” according to the filing.

Tesla also claimed Tripp peddled damaging false stories to the media, in one instance charging that punctured battery cells had been used in some Tesla Model 3 cars “even though no punctured cells were ever used in vehicles, batteries or otherwise,” the lawsuit reads. There were other instances, Tesla said.

“Tripp also vastly exaggerated the true amount and value of ‘scrap’ material that Tesla generated during the manufacturing process, and falsely claimed that Tesla was delayed in bringing new manufacturing equipment online,” the lawsuit alleges.

He had apparently been on the job as a process technician at Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory less than eight months before he was confronted by company investigators. Soon after joining the company his supervisors wrote him up for a sub-par job performance and behavioral issues with his colleagues. He was subsequently assigned to a new job, the lawsuit said, at which point he “retaliated against Tesla." According to the complaint, Telsa detectives confronted Tripp on June 14 and 15 at which point he admitted to the hacks.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk told employees in an email sent earlier this week prior to the lawsuit filing that a former employee, who he did not identify, had conducted “extensive and damaging sabotage” to the company’s operations, Reuters reported. “The full extent of his actions are not yet clear, but what he has admitted to so far is pretty bad,” Musk reportedly wrote. “His stated motivation is that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive.” He said Tesla had not determined if the hacker acted alone or with "any outside organizations."

Jalopnick has posted a back and forth email exchange between Tripp and Musk worth reading, in which Tripp says, "Don't worry, you have what's coming to you for the lies you have told the public and investors," and Musk calls him a "horrible human being."

Last week the CEO announced a layoff of nine percent of the company’s workforce.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.