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Tesla sues former employee for hacking production lines, stealing data, and lying to the press

Published Jun 20th, 2018 1:39PM EDT
Tesla factory production

Late last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk fired off an email to employees saying that the company had a saboteur in its ranks. The email was the latest turn in an us-versus-them narrative that has seen Musk blame short-sellers, Big Oil, the media, and now his own employees for Tesla’s production problems.

In a lawsuit filed today, Tesla idenified the employee, Martin Tripp of Sparks, Nevada, who was allegedly sabotaging the production line, and added stealing company data and lying to the media to his other offences. There’s still no suggestion that the employee had any higher agenda than settling a petty dispute with Tesla. Tripp seemingly has no online presence or records, and has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

Tripp “unlawfully hacked the company’s confidential and trade secret information and transferred that information to third parties,” according to the lawsuit. “Tesla has only begun to understand the full scope of Tripp’s illegal activity, but he has thus far admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s manufacturing operating system (“MOS”) and to transferring several gigabytes of Tesla data to outside entities. This includes dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems.”

Tripp was hired as a process technician at Tesla’s Gigafactory in October 2017, Tesla says, and stayed in that role for a few months before being transferred due to his issues with the job, according to the filing. Tripp’s hacking of Tesla systems was seemingly designed to export confidential information — not delay the manufacturing process or cause fires — and it appears that all of his actions were retaliation against Tesla for perceived mistreatment, rather than industrial espionage.

One of the more interesting details from the finding is that Tesla says Tripp didn’t just smuggle confidential information to third parties — he also lied to the press. “Tripp also made false claims to the media about the information he stole. For example, Tripp claimed that punctured battery cells had been used in certain Model 3 vehicles even though no punctured cells were ever used in vehicles, batteries or otherwise,” Tesla claims. “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.”

Those details appear to be behind this June 2018 story from Business Insider, which matches with what Tesla claims Tripp fabricated.