It’s no secret that Uber’s management over the years has been pretty sketchy, if not downright nefarious. At some point I may write a longer post about this, but it appears that the company culture took the idea of reasonably pushing back on bad laws (such as those that restricted competition in the taxi space) and took it to mean that it could just ignore all sorts of rules. And it appears that a company culture was created that celebrated rulebreaking in all sorts of ways — most of which were bad. The company has a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who comes in with a strong reputation and has indicated his intent to change the culture. On Tuesday, the company admitted that it had covered up that data on 57 million users had been leaked. While the data didn’t include credit card info or trip data, it did include drivers’ license info for 7 million drivers, and the email addresses and phone numbers of 50 million riders.
It’s bad enough that the data leaked, but covering it up is serious — and means that the company is going to be hit with lawsuits. California (among others) has a strong data breach law, and it seems quite likely that Uber broke that law in failing to alert people that their info had been accessed. Perhaps more incredibly, the cover-up happened at the very same time that the company was negotiating with FTC officials over a previous data breach. Also, it appears that Uber paid off the hackers who were trying to extort the company to keep the data secret:
Here’s how the hack went down: Two attackers accessed a private GitHub coding site used by Uber software engineers and then used login credentials they obtained there to access data stored on an Amazon Web Services account that handled computing tasks for the company. From there, the hackers discovered an archive of rider and driver information. Later, they emailed Uber asking for money, according to the company.
Apparently, Uber paid the hackers $100,000 to keep the data from getting out.
In response to this, Khosrowshahi has put up a blog post taking responsibility for this and more or less admitting that the company had royally fucked up. He also fired two employees who were apparently responsible for covering this up (the report technically says one was “asked to resign” while the other was fired). The whole thing sounds like a complete shitshow from a company that, well, has a history of Broadway-level shitshows.
While the blog post is clearly an attempt to show that the company is trying to turn over a new leaf, the whole situation is still troubling. The blog post doesn’t mention paying off the hackers — it just says that the company “obtained assurances that the downloaded data had been destroyed.” It certainly feels like the overall statement could be stronger. Here’s part of it:
At the time of the incident, we took immediate steps to secure the data and shut down further unauthorized access by the individuals. We subsequently identified the individuals and obtained assurances that the downloaded data had been destroyed. We also implemented security measures to restrict access to and strengthen controls on our cloud-based storage accounts.
You may be asking why we are just talking about this now, a year later. I had the same question, so I immediately asked for a thorough investigation of what happened and how we handled it. What I learned, particularly around our failure to notify affected individuals or regulators last year, has prompted me to take several actions:
- I’ve asked Matt Olsen, a co-founder of a cybersecurity consulting firm and former general counsel of the National Security Agency and director of the National Counterterrorism Center, to help me think through how best to guide and structure our security teams and processes going forward. Effective today, two of the individuals who led the response to this incident are no longer with the company.
- We are individually notifying the drivers whose driver’s license numbers were downloaded.
- We are providing these drivers with free credit monitoring and identity theft protection.
- We are notifying regulatory authorities.
- While we have not seen evidence of fraud or misuse tied to the incident, we are monitoring the affected accounts and have flagged them for additional fraud protection.
None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it. While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes. We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.
It will be interesting to see if the company can really change its culture. I still think that the concept behind Uber is powerful and can do some fairly useful things in the world, but the way in which the company has gone about running its business has been a disgrace.