A bombshell letter revealed a security group within Uber hacked into competitors’ computer systems, stole data from rivals, and attempted to cover its tracks by using burner cell phones by the judge overseeing the company’s legal dispute with Google-spinoff company Waymo.
Sources report, the letter was written by a lawyer for a Richard Jacobs, Uber’s former manager of global intelligence. It was written in May to an internal Uber lawyer who handles employee complaints.
Jacobs was fired from Uber in April. In the letter, Jacobs’ lawyer charges he was terminated in retaliation by the company because he refused to participate in what he viewed as unethical and illegal activities.
Those activities, which Jacobs’ lawyer details in the letter, were allegedly perpetrated by Uber’s Threat Operations (ThreatOps) group. That group “frequently engaged in fraud and theft, and employed third-party vendors to obtain unauthorized data or information,” Jacobs’ lawyer charged.
The letter alleges that between December 14 and 16, 2016, the ThreatOps team infiltrated a WhatsApp group and collected information from it.
“Jacobs reported that infiltrating WhatsApp groups was unlawful and would get Uber kicked out of [redacted],” Jacobs’ lawyer said in the letter. “His concerns were ignored.”
Uber’s ThreatOps team allegedly infiltrated rivals’ networks and stole their data
The letter also charges that “Uber worked to unlawfully obtain trade secrets.”
It alleges the ThreatOps team:
“1) remotely accessed confidential [redacted] corporate communications and data
2) impersonated riders and drivers on [redacted] platform to derive key functions of [redacted] rider and driver apps
3) stole supply data by identifying possible drivers to boost Uber’s market position, and
4) acquired codebase which allowed MA to identify code used by [redacted] to understand in greater detail how [redacted] app functioned.”
The letter accuses Uber of hacking into the networks of its ride-sharing competitors, stealing the code that allowed them to track their operations, and stealing other data.
In particular, Uber hacked a taxi company’s database that contained information on its drivers and attempted to use that hacked information to recruit those drivers to
Uber also cultivated spies from within its competitors to feed it information on their activities, Jacobs’ lawyer charged.
The ThreatOps group allegedly used burner phones and encryption apps to hide its activities
Uber’s ThreatOps group went to great lengths to cover up its activities, according to the letter. The group used so-called burner cell phones and communicated via encrypted messaging services such as Wickr, where messages are deleted soon after they’re sent, the letter charged. Group members were trained to mark their communications “privileged” under the believe that privileged communications with Uber’s lawyers meant that their documents could not be used in legal proceedings, Jacobs’ lawyer said in the letter.
The team “implemented a sophisticated strategy to destroy, conceal, cover up, and falsify records or documents with the intent to impede or obstruct government investigations as well as discovery obligations in pending and future litigation,” Jacobs’ lawyer charged.
The letter came to light as part of the lawsuit Waymo, the autonomous-car subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, filed against Uber in February, charging Uber with stealing its trade secrets. Most of the activities detailed in the letter allegedly took place while Travis Kalanick was still CEO of Uber. Kalanick resigned from that position in June following an investigation that revealed a toxic workplace environment at the company.
After the existence of the letter was revealed in court, Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, acknowledged in a tweet he was aware employees were using apps including Wickr and Telegram. He said he banned them soon after he started at the company.