Uber Hid 2016 Breach, Paying Hackers to Delete Stolen Data

Uber Hid 2016 Breach, Paying Hackers to Delete Stolen Data

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber disclosed Tuesday that hackers had stolen 57 million driver and rider accounts and that the company had kept the data breach secret for more than a year after paying a $100,000 ransom.

The deal was arranged by the company’s chief security officer and under the watch of the former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, according to several current and former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were private.

The security officer, Joe Sullivan, has been fired. Mr. Kalanick was forced out in June, although he remains on Uber’s board.

The two hackers stole data about the company’s riders and drivers — including phone numbers, email addresses and names — from a third-party server and then approached Uber and demanded $100,000 to delete their copy of the data, the employees said.

Uber acquiesced to the demands, and then went further. The company tracked down the hackers and pushed them to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to the people familiar with the matter. To further conceal the damage, Uber executives also made it appear as if the payout had been part of a “bug bounty” — a common practice among technology companies in which they pay hackers to attack their software to test for soft spots.

The details of the attack remained hidden until Tuesday. The ride-hailing company said it had discovered the breach as part of a board investigation into Uber’s business practices.

The breach at Uber is far from the most serious exposure of sensitive customer information. The two breaches that Yahoo announced in 2016 eclipse Uber’s in size, and an attack disclosed in September by Equifax, the consumer credit reporting agency, exposed a far deeper trove of personal information for a far larger group of people.

But the handling of the breach underscores the extent to which Uber executives were willing to go to protect the $70 billion ride-hailing giant’s reputation and business, even at the potential cost of breaking users’ trust and, perhaps more important, state and federal laws. The New York attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that it had opened an investigation into the matter.

Dara Khosrowshahi, who was chosen to be chief executive of Uber in late August, said he had only recently learned of the breach.

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said in a company blog post. “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.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Kalanick declined to comment.

The revelation of the breach and the way it was kept quiet renewed questions about the tenure of Mr. Kalanick, who has faced criticism over his management style and practices after Uber came under scrutiny for its workplace culture this year. The New York Times also reported on a secret program called Greyball that had been undertaken on Mr. Kalanick’s watch, in which Uber staff members surveilled law enforcement officials in order to evade them. Since his exit as chief executive, he has been sued by one of Uber’s earlier investors for fraud.

The breach is also a black mark for Mr. Sullivan, who was a prominent figure in the information security industry. Mr. Sullivan joined Uber as the company’s first chief security officer in 2015, after serving as the head of security at Facebook for seven years.

To read the original article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/uber-hack.html

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