Uber Found to Employ Tool Capable of Remotely Wiping Data to Offset Investigators
It’s no secret that corporations often employ questionable and often downright illegal tactics to conceal sensitive, potentially incriminating evidence from investigators. Uber is no stranger to such techniques, and have been found to remotely shutdown computers to thwart police raids. Uber is said to have used the system more than 20 times between spring 2015 until late 2016, in places such as Canada, Brussels and Hong Kong, to name a few.
In May 2015, ten investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber’s office in Montreal, believing that Uber had violated tax laws and arrived with a warrant to collect evidence. The managers on site were already debriefed about what to do in such situations and promptly contacted a team of specialists based in San Fransisco. The team went ahead and remotely logged off all terminals in the office, leaving the investigators red-faced. Not surprisingly, they left the office without any evidence.
The team overseeing the software is capable of remotely changing passwords, lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, desktops and well as shut down the devices at a moments notice. This routine, known as the unexpected visitor protocol, is common knowledge among employees. The tool is christened “Ripley”, inspired by the trigger-happy, flamethrower-wielding character from the Aliens movie franchise.
We understand why Uber has to be extra careful with their data, considering that they access to the private data of millions of people across the world. The only reason Uber stands out, in this case, is because they’ve repeatedly abused the system to intentionally set back investigators, which could amount to obstruction of justice in some instances.
But Wait, There’s More
If you thought that Ripley was the only trick Uber had up its sleeve, wait till you hear about their other program called Greyball. The tool allows Uber to show enforcement officers worldwide a fake version of its application, Greyball was part of a program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly.
Uber’s use of Greyball was recorded in late 2014, when an enforcement inspector in Portland, Oregon, tried to hail an Uber car downtown in a sting operation against the company.b Uber quickly identified them as city officials, based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app, populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.