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Former Uber CSO Charged Over 2016 Data Breach Cover-Up

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that former Uber Chief Security Officer (CSO) Joe Sullivan has been charged over his alleged role in the cover-up of the 2016 data breach that resulted in the information of millions of Uber drivers and users getting stolen by hackers.

Sullivan has been charged with obstruction of justice and misprision of a felony. During his time at Uber — he served as the company’s CSO between April 2015 and November 2017 — the ride-sharing giant’s systems were breached and the attackers managed to steal information belonging to 57 million users and drivers.

The hackers attempted to extort Uber, demanding a six-figure payment. In an effort to cover up the breach, Uber paid the cybercriminals $100,000 through its HackerOne bug bounty program, instructing them to destroy the data. Sullivan allegedly asked the individuals to sign non-disclosure agreements that falsely claimed no data had been taken.

The incident occurred in the fall of 2016, but it was only disclosed to the public roughly one year later, after Dara Khosrowshahi was appointed Uber’s CEO. Sullivan was fired over his role in the handling of the breach and U.S. officials expressed discontent over how the incident was addressed, particularly since information was withheld from the FTC, which at the time was investigating a smaller cybersecurity incident suffered by the ride-sharing firm in 2014.

“The criminal complaint also alleges Sullivan deceived Uber’s new management team about the 2016 breach. Specifically, Sullivan failed to provide the new management team with critical details about the breach,” the Justice Department said. “Sullivan asked his team to prepare a summary of the incident, but after he received their draft summary, he edited it. His edits removed details about the data that the hackers had taken and falsely stated that payment had been made only after the hackers had been identified.”

An investigation revealed that two individuals living in Canada and Florida were behind the Uber hack. They pleaded guilty in October 2019, admitting that they stole information from unprotected AWS servers and then demanded payment to destroy the data. They have yet to be sentenced.

Before joining Uber, Sullivan worked at eBay, PayPal, and Facebook. Prior to starting his career in the private sector, he was a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of California.

He is currently the CSO of Cloudflare, and the web performance and security company’s founder and CEO, Matthew Prince, issued a brief statement on Twitter regarding the charges brought against Sullivan.

Cloudflare statement on former Uber CSO charges

Related: Uber Agrees to $148M Settlement With States Over Data Breach

Related: Court Investigating Whether Uber Connived to Cover its Tracks

Related: Cathay Apologizes Over Data Breach but Denies Cover-up

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.