Google Engineer Allegedly Stole AI Secrets Then Became CEO Of A Chinese Startup: Here’s How – CRN

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‘We allege the defendant stole artificial intelligence-related trade secrets from Google while secretly working for two companies based in China,’ said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

A former Google software engineer allegedly mastered an elaborate, multi-year plan that saw him successfully steal hundreds of AI and supercomputing secrets from Google Cloud and then become the CEO of an AI startup in China—even going so far as conducting investor meetings to try to raise capital.

Linwei Ding, 38, also known as Leon, was arrested at his residence in Newark, Calif.-based Wednesday. He was charged with four counts of theft of trade secrets in connection with an alleged plan to steal Google proprietary information related to AI.

Ding, a national of the People’s Republic of China, allegedly transferred sensitive Google trade secrets and other information to his personal account while affiliating himself with AI companies headquartered in China.

“We allege the defendant stole artificial intelligence-related trade secrets from Google while secretly working for two companies based in China,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, in his indictment today. “We will fiercely protect sensitive technologies developed in America from falling into the hands of those who should not have them.”

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Cloud is a $37 billion cloud computing and AI market leader.

Ding’s Criminal Timeline And Google Hiring

Ding was hired by Google in 2019 to help develop software for Google’s supercomputing data centers, which host the company’s large AI models and machine learning workloads.

In connection with his Google employment, Ding was granted access to Google’s confidential information related to the hardware infrastructure, the software platform, and the AI models and applications they supported, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.

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In May 2022, Ding began stealing information related to the building of supercomputing data centers by copying the information into a personal Google Cloud account, the indictment stated.

“The defendant stole from Google over 500 confidential files containing AI trade secrets, while covertly working for China-based companies seeking an edge in the AI technology race,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, in a statement.

Ding Becomes CEO Of Chinese AI Startup; Seeks Financial Backers

In October 2022, he allegedly traveled to China where he was soon named chief technology officer for an AI startup in the country. By May 2023, Ding even conducted an investor meeting to try to raise capital for the new company he founded and named himself as CEO, dubbed Shanghai Zhisuan Technology Co.

The indictment alleges potential investors were told Ding was the new company’s chief Technology Officer and that Ding owned 20 percent of the company’s stock.

In May 2023, he founded and became CEO of his own AI and machine learning company based in China.

Ding’s company touted the development of a software platform designed to accelerate machine learning workloads, including training large AI models. He did not inform Google about his affiliations with these companies and failed to disclose his travels to China for investor meetings.

Ding even applied to a China-based startup incubation program and traveled to Beijing, to present his company at an investor conference last November.

Ding Tries To Cover His Tracks

Investigators said to help cover his crimes, he permitted another Google employees to use his company-issued access badge to scan into the entrance of a Google building. This made it look like he was working from his office in the United States, while he was in China raising money for his startup based on stolen technology.

Another way he tried to cover his tracks was he allegedly copied data from Google source files into the Apple Notes application on his Google-issued MacBook laptop. By then converting the Apple Notes into PDF files and uploading them from the Google network into as separate account, Ding was able to evade detection by Google’s data loss prevention systems.

Ding Could Face Ten Years In Prison If Convicted

If convicted, Ding faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine for each count of theft, according to the indictment.

“The Justice Department will relentlessly pursue and hold accountable those who would siphon disruptive technologies – especially AI – for unlawful export,” said Deputy Attorney General Monaco.”

The FBI and U.S. Commerce Department are currently investigating the case.

Google did not immediately respond for comment on the matter.

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