Don’t mess with Elon Musk – a lesson that one Tesla employee found out the hard way.
In fact, the CEO of Tesla had a genius method to identify the employee who leaked confidential information to press.
Elon Musk wasn’t prepared to let the employee cross him without consequences.
Tweets to Elon Musk from his 164 million followers don’t always go unanswered.
One tweet caught his attention and evoked a pretty juicy response.
Vaibhav Balghare (@NASAEarthMars) took to X to ask how he managed to catch the mole.
It was public knowledge that a Tesla employee was selling ‘confidential data’ about the automotive company in 2008.
Elon Musk seemed pretty proud of his method to unmask the data-leak culprit.
He summarised his genius method as follows on X.
“We sent what appeared to be identical emails to all, but each was actually coded with either one or two spaces between sentences, forming a binary signature that identified the leaker.”
The method is called a ‘canary trap’.
“It’s an effective method for exposing an information leak,” according to canarytrap.com.
“It’s a tool for detecting and plugging information leaks – a clever ploy to determine which canary is singing when under orders to remain silent,” the website said.
“A memo with sensitive information is distributed to several individuals (canaries), but the wording is varied slightly in each copy of the memo provided.”
“If the information gets leaked to anyone not authorized to receive it, one glance at the leaked text reveals which version of the memo was leaked — the source of the leak is identified.”
The weapon of espionage was made famous in the 1987 best-seller, Patriot Games, by novelist Tom Clancy.
Once the culprit was found, Musk surprisingly decided against legal action.
He claimed that he was “too busy trying to survive at the time”.
However this live-and-let-live attitude seems at odds with the caricature of a Bond-villain we think of Musk as today.
To put into context it might be worth considering that this happened during the worldwide recession of 2008.
Founded in 2003, Tesla was still in its infancy and was approaching bankruptcy towards the end of the year.
While charges weren’t brought, it’s worth noting that the employee did not come out of the situation unscathed.
The Tesla staff member was let go.
Elon Musk put it rather euphemistically.
“They were invited to further their career elsewhere,” he said.
This should serve as a stark reminder to Tesla employees: leaking information in the digital era is a risky business.