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Tesla sues ex-employee for hacking, theft, and leaking to the press

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Elon Musk claimed ‘sabotage’ earlier this week

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Tesla filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that a former employee hacked the company’s system and transferred “gigabytes” of data to unnamed third parties. The lawsuit may align with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s recent claim of “sabotage” by an ex-worker.

Tesla’s lawsuit names Martin Tripp, a former process technician at the company’s Gigafactory in Nevada, as the defendant. Tesla claims that Tripp “unlawfully hacked the company’s confidential and trade secret information and transferred that information to third parties.” To do so, Tripp placed “hacking software” in the computers of three individual employees to routinely export confidential data, the company says.

Tesla says that Tripp has already admitted to hacking its manufacturing operating system, and the company accuses him of making false statements to the media about the stolen information. The suit, which was filed in federal court in Nevada, was first reported by CNBC.

Tesla claims that Tripp was the source of a news report about punctured battery cells at Tesla’s factory.

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. 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 doesn’t specify which media outlet Tripp leaked to, but earlier this month, Business Insider ran a story about scrap metal waste and punctured battery cells at Tesla’s factory, citing documents and former employees as sources.

Musk first alluded to the incidents described in the lawsuit last week in an email to Tesla employees in which he claimed Tesla was being sabotaged by an ex-employee. The employee was allegedly found to have made “direct code changes” to Tesla’s manufacturing system and sent “large amounts of highly sensitive” data to third parties.

Musk also questioned whether “Wall Street short-sellers,” “oil & gas companies,” or “the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors” may have been involved. “If they’re willing to cheat so much about emissions, maybe they’re willing to cheat in other ways?” he wrote.

Tesla has struggled to ramp up production of its Model 3 vehicle, encountering bottlenecks in its factory and supply chain. The company is scrambling to produce 5,000 Model 3s a week ahead of its third-quarter earnings, as it attempts to evolve from a niche luxury electric car company into a mass-market player.

A lawyer for Tripp could not be immediately reached, and a Tesla spokesperson declined to comment.