Sunday, 23 September, 2018

Uber used secret tool to thwart law enforcement in foreign countries

Uber used secret tool to thwart law enforcement in foreign countries Uber used secret tool to thwart law enforcement in foreign countries
Nellie Chapman | 12 January, 2018, 15:08

While we know that many companies tend to have a remote "panic button" to shut off computers if a police raid were to occur, Uber's secret tool is on a different level.

The Uber HQ team remotely changed passwords and locked up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops and shut down the devices.

Uber employees based in San Francisco could remotely lock down equipment in the company's foreign offices to stymie local authorities from obtaining any incriminating data, according to a report in Bloomberg.

Background: Uber has ruffled regulatory feathers around the world by not abiding by taxi license rules and classifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than works.

The use of this tool raises questions for Uber simply because there is now a growing list of eyebrow-raising technological tactics the company has employed during its meteoric rise from Bay Area phenomenon to global powerhouse over the past nine years.

Called "Ripley" after Sigourney Weaver's character in the film Aliens, the program was a real-life application of her character's famous line, "Nuke the entire site from orbit".

For example, in May of 2015, when investigators from Quebec's tax authority showed up at Uber's Montreal office with a warrant to collect evidence, employees at the company's headquarters in San Francisco were able to remotely log off every computer in the Montreal office. As it turns out, that wasn't the only program Uber was using to evade law enforcement.

In a statement, Uber spokesperson said: "Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data".

The investigation is focusing on an Uber program, internally known as 'Hell, ' that could track drivers working for rival service Lyft Inc, the WSJ said, citing people familiar with the investigation. Uber's on-site managers followed protocol and alerted company headquarters about what was happening.

Uber said it no longer uses Ripley because it wasn't effective. "When it comes to government investigations, it's our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data".

Uber doesn't have a very good relationship with regulators, and by that I mean it seems to do everything it can to avoid letting them do any investigation into the company.

Ripley was developed by Uber's security and legal teams; Joe Sullivan and Salle Yoo, who respectively ran the company's security and legal departments, have since left Uber.

Uber subsequently complied with authorities when the judge issued a second warrant. We also send freebies and lots of other goodies exclusively to our email subscribers.

But some employees felt that the system slowed down legitimate investigations, and one academic said that the use of the system could potentially amount to obstruction of justice.

As for software like Ripley, Prey or uLocker, Uber said there's nothing secretive about it.