File image: Elon Musk. (IOL).

INTERNATIONAL -Tesla is taking action against a former employee who allegedly stole 'gigabytes' worth of data from the company. 

         File image: Elon Musk. (IOL). 

Elon Musk's electric car firm is suing former process engineer Martin Tripp for R13 million, alleging he hacked into Tesla's system, transferred data to third parties and gave false leaks to the media.   

The suit was filed Wednesday, three days after Musk warned employees of sabotage from within the company.

Tripp of Sparks, Nevada, admitted to Tesla investigators that he wrote software that transferred data outside the company.  

'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 and to transferring several gigabytes of Tesla data to outside entities,' according to the lawsuit. 

'This includes dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla's manufacturing systems.'      

In a tweet on Wednesday, Musk alluded to the idea that more lawsuits might be on the way, saying that the lawsuit was only part of the 'sabotage' he had spoken of previously. 

'There is more, but the actions of a few bad apples will not stop Tesla from reaching its goals,' Musk said. 

'With 40,000 people, the worst 1 in 1000 will have issues. That's still ~40 people.' 

Hacking software from Tripp also was running on three computer systems of other employees 'so that the data would be exported even after he left the company and so that those individuals would be falsely implicated,' the lawsuit alleges.

A man who answered a call Wednesday at a number believed to be Tripp's said he did not know Tripp. An email message was not answered.

Tripp was hired as a process technician at Tesla's battery factory in October 2017 and had electronically signed a non-disclosure agreement, the lawsuit noted.  

Within a few months of his hiring, managers identified problems with his job performance, including at times being disruptive and combative with colleagues, according to the document. 

He was reassigned on May 17, 2018, and retaliated against the company by stealing the information, the lawsuit alleged.

Tripp made false claims about the information he stole, including claims that Tesla used punctured battery cells in the Model 3 electric car, and claims about the amount and value of scrap material generated by Tesla in the manufacturing process, the lawsuit alleged. 

Some of the claims made it into media stories about Tesla, although the lawsuit doesn't mention which media outlets Tripp leaked information to.   

'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,' the lawsuit states. 

'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 company also alleges that Tripp sent photographs and data to unspecified third parties including financial information and battery manufacturing details. 

Data was combined with false information given to the media, the lawsuit said. 

The company says Tesla's name was damaged and the company lost business and profits due to the disclosures.

The move comes after Musk emailed employees on Sunday telling them of 'extensive and damaging sabotage' to the company's manufacturing operating system done under false user names.  

He wrote that the person's motivation was that he wanted a promotion that he did not receive. 

Musk wrote that there's a long list of organizations that 'want Tesla to die,' including Wall Street stock short-sellers and oil and gas companies. 

The company was investigating whether the former employee acted alone, Musk wrote.

Musk also wrote in the email to employees that Tesla was edging closer toward sustaining its goal of producing 500 Model 3 sedans per week. 

Tesla wants monetary damages and an order to prevent Tripp from obtaining or disclosing information. 

It also seeks a court order to inspect his computers, electronic storage devices, email accounts and external storage accounts.

Tesla would not comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.

It was unclear if the company reported the alleged thefts to law enforcement.

Sparks police Officer Ken Gallop said there was no record of an investigation involving Martin Tripp. Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages from The Associated Press. Sandra Breault, spokeswoman for the FBI in Nevada, said she was checking into the matter.

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- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE