Uber used remote computer system to shield data from police raids

Posted January 13, 2018

It is said to have "routinely" used the system more than 20 times between spring 2015 until late 2016, in places as far afield as Canada, Brussels and Hong Kong ...

The nickname for the tool, meanwhile, is said to be inspired by a quote from Ellen Ripley, the heroine played by Sigourney Weaver in the Alien film franchise. They were armed with the appropriate warrants, but managers on site had already paged Uber's head office in San Francisco.

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.

It's no secret that corporations often employ questionable and often downright illegal tactics to hide sensitive, potentially incriminating evidence from investigators.

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Ryan Kalember from cybersecurity firm Proofpoint added that although it is standard practice to be able to remotely lock all systems or wipe data from devices, it's less typical to develop a specific tool and to give it such an evocative name.

Uber downplayed the tool and said it was common practice to have such software to remotely change passwords or lock devices in the event they were lost or stolen. "It's the only way to be sure". For instance, if an employee loses their laptop, we have the ability to remotely log them out of Uber's systems to prevent someone else from accessing private user data through that laptop.

Uber is reported to have used remote shutdowns of computers to thwart police raids. She then suggested some sort of app that could counter those raids, and thus Ripley was born.

According to Bloomberg, the system was known as Ripley, after the flame throwing hero in the Alien movies, and was used over two dozen times.

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According to Uber it no longer uses Ripley because it was not effective and now uses an off-the-shelf software called Prey and another type of software it built called uLocker. The three people with knowledge of the tool believe it was justified, however, since they claim authorities outside the USA didn't always come with warrants and often relied on rather broad orders.

"Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data", said an Uber spokeswoman.

'When it comes to government investigations, it's our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data.

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