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10/16/2009
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Ex-Ford Engineer Indicted For Allegedly Stealing Company Secrets

Xiang Dong Yu allegedly copied 4,000 sensitive Ford documents onto a USB drive before leaving the company

Yet another major corporation may have been the victim of one of its own stealing trade secrets: A former Ford Motor engineer has been indicted for allegedly stealing thousands of sensitive documents from the company and copying them onto a USB drive before taking a job with another auto company.

Xiang Dong Yu, who also goes by Mike Yu, was arrested Wednesday at Chicago's O'Hare Airport after returning from a trip to China, according to published reports. Yu, 47, is charged in an indictment with theft, attempted theft of trade secrets, and unauthorized access to a computer and faces up to 10 years in prison. He currently works for an unnamed competitor to Ford in China.

Yu allegedly copied 4,000 documents that contained Ford design information, including engine and transmission mounting subsystems, electrical distribution systems, doors, mirrors, steering-wheel assemblies, power systems, and wipers. The indictment says he allegedly stole most of the information in December 2006, just before he resigned from his engineering job at Ford to take a position at a company in China. In spring 2008, he allegedly used some of the stolen Ford information while job-hunting in China.

"Employees and employers should be aware that stealing proprietary trade secrets to gain an economic advantage is a serious federal offense that will be prosecuted aggressively," U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg said in a statement.

Employees siphoning their employers' corporate trade secrets onto a USB drive for profit or leverage in another job is nothing new -- similar insider theft incidents occurred at duPont and Intel.

"This problem isn't isolated to Ford," says Brian Cleary, vice president of products and marketing at Aveksa. "There have been other very similar situations where people with a bona fide reason to access this information chose to misuse that access for fraud purposes...The challenge to organizations is understanding where they are introducing access-related business risks."

Cleary says the keys to protecting yourself from a rogue privileged user is ensuring that no one has access to anything they don't need for their job, monitoring their access patterns and activities, revoking privileges users aren't using, and deploying real-time access monitoring for users with access to highly sensitive data.

And while the options for securing USB access were a bit slimmer during Yu's alleged activities three years ago, locking down USB drives is crucial, notes Ben Goodman, principal technical specialist for compliance at Novell. "Having an engineering workstation with access to intellectual property that [would have] let him use CD-Rs or USBs is almost neglect [today], " Goodman says. "There are so many tools out there to help you lock down USB drives."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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