13 January, 2018
Should law enforcement show up to raid any of its offices overseas, managers had been instructed to page a number to warn staff at Uber's San Francisco headquarters, according to a report Thursday by Bloomberg News. Now we've got Ripley, which came to light in a report from Bloomberg.
The use of this tool raises questions for Uber because the company has in the past used a phony version of its app to thwart authorities attempting to collect evidence of local law-breaking.
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.
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. The investigators were said to have left empty handed.
Ripley: This allowed the Uber HQ team to remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices'.
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The system has reportedly been called Ripley, after the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the Alien film franchise who declares the best way to defeat the aliens: "Nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure".
Uber is reported to have used remote shutdowns of computers to thwart police raids.
Uber's use of Greyball was recorded in late 2014, when an enforcement inspector in Portland, Oregon, tried to hail an Uber auto 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. She then suggested some sort of app that could counter those raids, and thus Ripley was born. "It also generally may permit access to areas and data not covered by any warrant".
It's not unusual for tech companies to shut off computers during a raid to review a warrant before turning over information, but Uber used Ripley at least two dozen times and in instances where employees felt the system was slowing police with legal grounds. Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event.
Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data.