Top-Tier Apple Employee Admits To Stealing Company Secrets

A former Apple engineer is in some deep legal trouble after he was caught red-handed stealing company secrets.

By Joseph Farago | Published

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Apple is having trouble with an ex-employee regarding the unlawful download of confidential documents. Xiaolang Zhang, a former employee at the company, allegedly stole secret computer files that had trade secrets about Apple’s upcoming car project. Today, Zhang is in court, testifying that he’s guilty of the accused charges.

For Zhang, an unfortunate outcome could occur from allegedly taking Apple documents. The defendant could face ten years in prison and over $250,000 in fines. Apple is not the company you want to mess with, swiping documents or not. His guilty plea could get him out of the extensive prison sentence, but that won’t be officially declared until November of this year.

What did Zhang steal from Apple? Allegedly, the former employee downloaded a 25-page document that held engineering schematics for an upcoming driverless vehicle. Alongside the extensive document, Zhang is also being accused of swiping another confidential manual: a PDF that contained the car’s prototype requirements and tangential information. Since there hasn’t been any official announcement from Apple about an autonomous vehicle, Zhang’s premature extraction of secret knowledge is an even worse predicament.

Though Zhang’s sentencing will occur later this year, his arrest began back in 2018. The ex-Apple employee was arrested at the San Jose Airport, where he was scheduled to fly to China. He was taken into custody and later had a hearing where he pleaded not guilty. Zhang was then released in the following days on a $300,000 bond but closely surveilled by GPS electronic monitoring. In 2022, he changed his plea to guilty after mounting evidence was found that could lock him away for decades.

Apple became suspicious about Zhang’s role at the company after he resigned. He had been working at the tech corporation for over three years and suddenly decided to pull out of his employment and move back to China. He told his employers that his intention of leaving the company was to take care of his mother outside of the states. He also revealed that he’d work at the Chinese company Xmotors, a highly revered electric car company. Soon after, Zhang’s connection to Apple’s network was cut permanently.

After Zhang’s sudden resignation, the company started to investigate Zhang. The investigation found that the former employee was downloading superfluous amounts of documents off of the company’s database. After this information revealed Zhang’s ulterior motives, Apple began checking security footage. Lo and behold, Zhang was caught on camera entering labs and removing specific hardware. This led to a further investigation of the former employee, ultimately bringing forth the criminal charges of Zhang.

Another employee at Apple is facing identical charges due to stealing confidential documents. Former Apple employee Jizhong Chen has also been accused of taking illicit trade secrets from the car division. Chen, though, has yet to plead guilty to her suspected actions. A trial date has yet to be set, and a lawyer isn’t representing Chen currently.

With the FBI involved, Apple indeed isn’t the tech company you’d want to steal trade secrets from. Both employees could face extreme punishments for their actions, including excessive fines and, possibly, a decade-long prison sentencing.