Category: Computer Security

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Tesla Trade Secrets Lawsuit: Investigators & Expert Witnesses

Did you hear about Tesla suing a former employer for stealing trade secrets?

Early last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk emailed Tesla employees reporting another employee had done some pretty significant sabotage to the company’s manufacturing operations. According to one Ars Technica article, “In the all-hands email to Tesla staff, Musk wrote that the employee had made ‘direct code changes’ to the company’s production systems, as well as exporting ‘large amounts’ of Tesla’s data to unknown third parties.”

In the same article, Ars Technica quotes Musk’s email further, “the alleged saboteur could have been working with short sellers, oil and gas companies—whom he described as ‘sometimes not super nice’—or ‘the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors.’ Of this last group, Musk reminded his employees that, since the traditional OEMs have been known to cheat emissions tests, ‘maybe they’re willing to cheat in other ways.'”

Mr. Musk is not subtle in his indication that he believes the saboteur may have been working with others in a coordinated effort of corporate espionage and theft of trade secrets.

Later in the week, Tesla filed suit against a now-former-employee, Martin Tripp. We can only assume this is the employee to whom Mr. Musk referred in the earlier email, given the civil complaint allegations against Mr. Tripp. The civil complaint link is courtesy of Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica.

The civil complaint alleges Mr. Tripp violated the Defend Trade Secrets Act and the Nevada Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Further, Tesla alleges of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty of loyalty, and violating the Nevada Computer Crimes Law.

To me, the interesting part was the “prayer for relief” (an absurdly arcane way of saying “this is what we want!”).  Here’s the summary. Take note of the first item:

tesla-prayer-for-relief

Section A goes hand in hand with Elon Musk’s comments indicating the saboteur may have been acting with unknown third parties. The legal action seems intended to prohibit the use of any stolen trade secrets and preventing any potential financial or competitive damage resulting from corporate espionage.

What experts played a role or may play a role?

The case being brand new (complaint filed last week), I don’t expect we’ll hear about expert witness involvement for some time. However, I do imagine some experts (working for Tesla) were involved in uncovering the alleged sabotage.

Digital Forensics, Computer Security, Corporate Security, Software, Human Resources…

We know from the complaint there are allegations that Mr. Tripp stole trade secrets from Tesla. According to the complaint, Mr. Tripp “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.” To someone like me, with fairly basic coding experience, it appears Mr. Tripp was quite advanced. He was able to bypass Tesla’s internal security to install hacking software.

Mr. Tripp has not admitted, but Tesla further alleges, “he also wrote computer code to periodically export Tesla’s data off it’s network and into the hands of third parties.” This sentence alone makes me wonder why Tesla did not add potential JOHN DOES to the complaint. Nevertheless, the complaint continues, “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.” Again, I mention this is a pretty advanced thought process because Mr. Tripp had plans to cover his tracks.

Given this information, I presume Tesla’s corporate security in conjunction with their legal department had to investigate Mr. Tripp’s actions for some time before terminating his employment and filing suit.

This investigation was likely to include those with knowledge and experience in digital forensics, computer security, and hacking software. Since the investigation involved an employee, I suppose there’s a chance human resources was included in the investigation as well.

Why was the investigation likely to include this variety of individuals? Tesla had to identify the breach using digital forensics and computer security experts. After recognizing the hacking software in their system, it’s possible they would have reviewed the code to see how it breached their computer security and I assume they would be able to identify the terminals on which the code resided. Since Mr. Tripp had taken precautions to misdirect Tesla, they may have identified the three other employees as responsible parties early in the investigation, causing them to monitor those employees.

Having watched enough spy movies to pretend I know what I’m talking about, I have to imagine Tesla would want to identify the third party entities mentioned in the complaint. So, they probably allowed some data to be exported while they were monitoring the situation in an effort to identify those who may have conspired with Mr. Tripp. With my spy movie knowledge, prognostications, and five bucks, you can get a cup of coffee.

Of this, I am certain. Tesla had to use investigators familiar with protection of intellectual property and digital evidence collection. Experts listed above would have the appropriate specialization to conduct this investigation in preparation for the recent litigation.

So as the litigation develops and if it goes to trial, I will expect to see software, digital forensics, computer security, corporate security, and human resources experts and consultants assisting in discovery and preparing for trial.

 

 

 

 

 

Computer ForensicsComputer SecurityComputersConsultantsExpert Witness

Google Antitrust Investigations: FTC, EU, state attorneys general… More to come?

The ABA Journal reported this week that Google was subpoenaed by the Missouri attorney general (Josh Hawley) for antitrust and consumer protection violations. Google has been placed on notice and the investigation is ongoing. Earlier this year, the Mississippi attorney general sued Google for similar violations and the European Union fined the company $2.7 billion for consumer protection violations. Are you seeing a pattern? Antitrust litigation against Google seems to be full speed ahead.

According to the article, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) completed an investigation against Google in 2013. The FTC concluded, “We have not found sufficient evidence that Google manipulates its search algorithms to unfairly disadvantage vertical websites that compete with Google-owned vertical properties.” Evidently, Mr. Hawley does not agree with the FTC finding so he decided to investigate on his own.

When investigating and prosecuting cases involving sophisticated technology and antitrust issues, attorneys depend on experts to perform complex investigations and unravel complex issues. Who will the attorneys general and defense counsel turn to in support of these involved matters? Let’s take a look at the issues:

Antitrust / Consumer Protection:

To understand more about the laws governing antitrust issues in the US please visit the FTC for a brief summary.

Essentially, United States antitrust law is a collection of federal and state laws regulating the conduct and organization of businesses, generally to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers.  As the FTC page indicates, there are three main laws covering antitrust behavior: the Sherman Act 1890, the Clayton Act 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act 1914. For more than 100 years, “The antitrust laws have had the same basic objective: to protect the process of competition for the benefit of consumers, making sure there are strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down, and keep quality up.” The laws also basically prevent collusion or cartel-like practices and monopolies.

The Missouri attorney general has said, “There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind.” It appears the Mr. Hawley believes Google is doing things which are not promoting, and possibly impeding, fair competition. Further, their algorithms may be directing users to Google-owned properties rather than websites offering services which compete with those Google-owned properties. As Google is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to Internet searching, any tactics directing users to their own goods or services could be considered a restraint of trade.

In order to prove Google manipulates algorithms for their own benefit, the Missouri attorney general is probably going to have to employ some expert consultants who may later testify as expert witnesses. Google’s defense counsel will probably have to do the same. I assume Google will have many of the pre-litigation consultants in-house.

During the investigation, Mr. Hawley will likely need to consult with antitrust and antitrust economics experts to determine if actions by Google are negatively impacting consumers or restraining trade. Furthermore, he may need to employ consultants to conduct market research to have statistical evidence of the impact on consumers.

Algorithms:

Most of us (is this too presumptive?) have some sort of rough idea about search algorithms and what they accomplish. We understand it to be a mathematical equation used to search data and deliver a result based on the search terms we utilized.

After reading my last paragraph, I have to say there are probably far more accurate and simplistic descriptions of an algorithm. I may not have properly described how they work. That’s because I’m not a computer scientist. Luckily, neither the prosecution nor defense will be calling Nick Rishwain as an expert witness in Missouri v. Google.

The legal representatives from both sides are going to need assistance in understanding search algorithms and how algorithms might be manipulated by Google. They are going to need to know this quite early in the case in order to request and deliver the proper documentation during the investigation and discovery stages should Missouri file a lawsuit.

Both sides will likely need the assistance of information and Internet technology consultants. More specifically, I can see the need for information science & architecture experts as well as search engine optimization experts.

As the ABA Journal article made abundantly clear: Google has faced many legal actions related to antitrust and it appears even more legal actions lie ahead. It should be noted that Google is not alone in this area. There appears to be increased chatter about antitrust actions against Amazon as well. If the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission avoid taking action, we may see more attorneys general choosing to investigate and possibly prosecute the corporate giants for dominating the market.

For more information, check out the Experts.com Antitrust Articles section.

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Computer Safety and Security Articles

CYBER ABUSE, CYBER CRIME

By: Richard Albee
DataChasers, Inc.

Tel: 877-DataExam (877-328-2392)
Website: www.DATACHASERS.COM

The Internet is a vast universe of discovery, with items of interest for everyone–regardless of your particular curiosity. Unfortunately, this availability often leads to abuse, and sometimes to crime. But, not unlike adolescent discovery, the steps to cybercrime are achieved in stages.

The first stage is availability

Without access to the Internet the potential for abuse becomes a moot point. It was common, several years ago, to simply advise employers against allowing employees access to the Internet; this is no longer practical. Internet access is an integral part of many businesses, and certainly a part of everyday life…
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DataChasers, Inc., is a select, exclusive computer forensics and e-discovery company. Our examiners find the evidence, interpret it, evaluate its importance, and articulate those facts to a jury. Computer forensics and e-discovery is our only business, and we welcome your inquiries about the process, or our procedures.

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CSI COMPUTER FORENSICS – Real Cases From Burgess Forensics #9 – The Case of the Teacher and the Trickster

By: Steven G. Burgess
Tel: (866) 345-3345

Website: www.BurgessForensics.com

The stories are true; the names and places have been changed to protect the potentially guilty.

It was a grey October day, the kind of day when a guy likes to cozy up next to a bank of servers to keep warm, when the Teacher first called me. “They think I’m nuts” were the words emanating from the phone. Well, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I sat up and went to my desk, away from the noisy fans cooling off all those Gigahertzes. “What’s the problem, Miss?”

The young woman explained that she was a not-yet-tenured teacher in a New England (greyer there than here) high school with a problem. Seems that a student in one of her classes was repeating things in the classroom that she had uttered only the night before in the apparently illusory privacy of her own living room…
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Steve Burgess is a freelance technology writer, a practicing computer forensics specialist as the principal of Burgess Forensics, and a contributor to the just released Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases, 5th Edition by Moenssens, et al.

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