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Uber’s Secret Tool Shields Data from Police Outside U.S.

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

Uber’s secret tool, called “Ripley” after Sigourney Weaver’s flamethrower-wielding hero in the Alien movies, was used over two dozen times to thwart potentially valid information-gathering efforts by local officers.

One such case occurred in Montreal in May 2015, when around 10 investigators from the provincial tax authority stormed Uber’s office with a warrant to search for evidence concerning to an alleged tax violation. As described by Bloomberg, employees remotely tipped off a special team at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, which the team then used this tool to remotely log off every computer in the Montreal office, effectively blocking the authorities from obtaining the records and leaving the investigators empty-handed.

An Uber spokesperson provided the following comment:

Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data. 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. When it comes to government investigations, it’s our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data.

The nickname of this secret system was inspired by a Ripley line in Aliens in which, after the acid-blooded extraterrestrials easily beaten a squad of ground troops, she quotes: “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

After the Bloomberg piece was published, a new report detailing another secret tool, called uLocker, used by Uber to “ransomware” its own data to make it inaccessible to investigators, hit TechCrunch. The same source of this report also told that Uber had another program intended to orchestrate the physical destruction of end-point workstations in the event of a raid by law enforcement.

An Uber spokesperson confirmed the existence of uLocker to TechCrunch, but denied its use as a cryptolocker to ransomware Uber’s data and also said that she wasn’t aware of any programs that could physically destroy Uber’s computers in the event of a raid, citing company protocol which states, “Do NOT delete, destroy, and conceal any document or data.”

Although the company is being probed by the U.S. Justice Department for at least five alleged schemes, the multi-jurisdictional nature of this program makes it unclear whether law enforcement authorities will investigate Ripley.

For now, Ripley joins the rogues’ gallery of Uber’s other sketchy, codenamed software tools, including “Hell,” “Greyball,” “God View,” “Firehouse,” and “Surfcam.”

[via The Verge]

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