McAfee sues former sales team over alleged leak of trade secrets to rival firm

The staff members at the heart of the case moved over to a competitor, Tanium.

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McAfee has launched a lawsuit against three former staff members over an alleged conspiracy to steal trade secrets for the benefit of their new employer, rival firm Tanium. 

As first reported by CyberScoop, the court case, filed with the Eastern District Court of Texas, claims that Jennifer Kinney, Alan Coe, and Percy Tejeda, highly-positioned sales staff who knew the recipe of McAfee's "secret sauce" in sales tactics and business strategy, allegedly conspired to steal confidential information. 

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The complaint seeks damages for the cybersecurity firm not only for trade secret misappropriation, but also "breach of contract, tortious interference, breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy."

According to court documents, late last year, Tejeda resigned from McAfee and moved over to Tanium, a rival endpoint security firm in California. After settling in with his new company, Tejeda then allegedly enticed Kinney to also resign and join Tanium in 2019. 

McAfee did not appreciate poaching and so contacted Tejeda with a reminder that his contract stipulated he was not meant to solicit McAfee employees. A letter was then sent from Tanium's legal team informing the company that another sales executive, Coe, was also joining Tanium. 

As the team becoming established at the rival company was a mirror image of who used to work at McAfee, the cybersecurity firm then investigated PCs used by Kinney and Coe to see if any confidential information had been taken prior to their departure. 

McAfee alleges that this is the case, and the two "engaged in a pattern of accessing confidential McAfee information both before and after announcing their resignations from McAfee."

This included the transfer of confidential information to private email addresses and Google Drive, as well as through unauthorized USB drives. 

Kinney and Coe each held the title of "Key Deal Manager," they reported to Tejeda, the former Director of Finance, and they all had a hand in business deals worth tens of millions of dollars. McAfee says that these core sales employees knew everything from marketing plans to pricing information and confidential sales data. 

"The information taken by the Employee Defendants for the benefit and/or at the direction of Tanium constitutes trade secrets of McAfee," the company claims. 

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However, McAfee says it is unable to say exactly what files were taken, beyond the alleged fact that sensitive McAfee sales and financial documents were accessed. Therefore, the cybersecurity firm hopes to gain access to the Google Drive accounts and USB devices through court discovery. 

A document called the "Deal Tracker" has, in particular, worried McAfee. This file was potentially taken by Kinney prior to departure and contains sales leads and accounts -- including client names, deal information, forecasts, costs, and pricing notes -- through Q1 2017 to Q1 2019. 

Kinney also allegedly accessed an internal database containing information relating to customer orders without any legitimate excuse. 

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"In addition, some of Kinney's last acts on the McAfee Computer were to forward nineteen emails to another of her personal email accounts," the complaint reads. "Several of those emails contained McAfee business files relating to recent sales, sales projections, customers, and the McAfee sales team."

On his last day, Coe, too, apparently accessed information relating to one of McAfee's largest accounts which is due for renewal. The complaint says that Tanium is competing for the same business. 

McAfee says it wishes to prevent the allegedly stolen data from impacting its business and has filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. The firm also claims that the "misappropriation and threatened misappropriation of trade secrets" has caused actual loss, and therefore McAfee is entitled to claim damages. 

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"Such actions have caused, and will continue to cause, harm to McAfee and unjust enrichment to Tanium," McAfee says. "McAfee prays that Tanium and Tejeda be held jointly and severally liable with Kinney and Coe for this harm, and that they be found liable for exemplary or punitive damages as well."

Tanium told ZDNet the company is unable to comment on ongoing litigation.

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