Google employee accused of stealing AI secrets for Chinese companies

The U.S. Department of Justice has unveiled an indictment against 38-year-old Linwei (Leon) Ding, a former Google software engineer, who is accused of stealing Google’s commercial AI secrets and transferring this information to companies in China.

It is alleged in the court documents that Ding stole proprietary information about Google’s AI technologies and shared it with two China-based companies where he was secretly employed.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Ding started working as a software engineer at Google in 2019, and on May 21, 2022, he began uploading the company’s proprietary data to his personal Google Cloud account. This process continued for nearly a year, resulting in the theft of over 500 files.

To mask his actions, Ding copied the source files to Apple Notes on his Google-provided laptop, converted them into PDF files, and then uploaded them to his Google Cloud account.

The stolen trade secret is believed to be related to key technologies underlying Google’s latest supercomputing data centers, which are essential for training and hosting Large Language Models (LLMs).

The indictment states that Ding stole proprietary information about various hardware and software platforms, including:

  • Data on the architecture and functionality of GPU and TPU chips and systems;
  • Software that allows these chips to interact and perform tasks;
  • Data on the Cluster Management System (CMS), which integrates thousands of chips into a supercomputer capable of working with machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies.

According to the indictment, Ding transferred stolen files containing confidential information to China. Specifically, the files were passed to an AI development company with which Ding was connected—he held the position of Director of Technology there. Additionally, the information ended up in the hands of a second company called Shanghai Zhisuan Technology Co, which Ding himself founded.

It is emphasized that Ding did not inform Google about his connections with these companies, nor did he disclose his trips to China, during which he met with investors. Instead, Ding asked a colleague to periodically scan his badge at the entrance to create the appearance that he was working and present in Google’s American office (while he was actually in China).

Even after Google discovered the leak and unauthorized data transfer, Ding lied to company investigators, claiming that he was simply uploading files to his personal account for work purposes. He also signed a statement claiming that he had permanently deleted all Google confidential information not related to his job, which was also a lie.

It is reported that Linwei Ding was arrested on March 5, 2024, and now faces a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each charge of theft of trade secrets (approximately $1,000,000 in total).

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