Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Money | By Armando Alvarado

Uber uses 'panic button' to shield files during police raids

Uber uses 'panic button' to shield files during police raids

Bloomberg notes that Uber isn't the only company to remotely lock up computer systems when the police turn up, but most companies will unlock them after reviewing the warrants and ensuring everything is in order.

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.

From spring 2015 until late 2016, Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries.

Uber has a special system to allow staff at its San Francisco HQ to remotely lock down computers at its offices around the world if they were raided by authorities, it has been claimed.

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.

It then adds, "Like managers at Uber's hundreds of offices overseas, they'd been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco".

For example, Uber's "Greyball" software identified regulators who were trying to hail a ride in an attempt to collect evidence of local law-breaking. The investigators left empty handed. Uber maintained that it never deleted the files and cooperated with another search warrant in which the files were covered once again. It was developed as the "unexpected visitor protocol" after a police raid in Brussels seized the company's financial, payments and worker documents.

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Dubbed Ripley for Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien movies, the program was regularly activated by the team at Uber's headquarters between early 2015 and late 2016. But the company maintains with regards to Ripley, it was in the right.

'Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event.' Bloomberg says.

Ensign could not immediately say if Uber has used that to protect data from law enforcement as well.

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

If you thought that Ripley was the only trick Uber had up its sleeve, wait till you hear about their other program called Greyball.

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.

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