Former Uber CISO Appealing His Conviction
Joe Sullivan, Uber’s CISO during their 2016 data breach, is appealing his conviction.
Prosecutors charged Sullivan, whom Uber hired as CISO after the 2014 breach, of withholding information about the 2016 incident from the FTC even as its investigators were scrutinizing the company’s data security and privacy practices. The government argued that Sullivan should have informed the FTC of the 2016 incident, but instead went out of his way to conceal it from them.
Prosecutors also accused Sullivan of attempting to conceal the breach itself by paying $100,000 to buy the silence of the two hackers behind the compromise. Sullivan had characterized the payment as a bug bounty similar to ones that other companies routinely make to researchers who report vulnerabilities and other security issues to them. His lawyers pointed out that Sullivan had made the payment with the full knowledge and blessing of Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO at the time, and other members of the ride-sharing giant’s legal team.
But prosecutors described the payment and an associated nondisclosure agreement that Sullivan’s team wanted the hackers to sign as an attempt to cover up what was in effect a felony breach of Uber’s network.
Sullivan’s fate struck a nerve with many peers and others in the industry who perceived CISOs as becoming scapegoats for broader security failures at their companies. Many argued and continue to argue that Sullivan acted with the full knowledge of his supervisors but in the end became the sole culprit for the breach and the associated failures for which he was charged. They believed that if Sullivan could be held culpable for his failure to report the 2016 breach to the FTC - and for the alleged hush payment—then so should Kalanick at the very least, and probably others as well.
It’s an argument that Sullivan’s lawyers once again raised in their appeal of the obstruction conviction this week. “Despite the fact that Mr. Sullivan was not responsible at Uber for the FTC’s investigation, including the drafting or signing any of the submissions to the FTC, the government singled him out among over 30 of his co-employees who all had information that Mr. Sullivan is alleged to have hidden from the FTC,” Swaminathan said.
I have some sympathy for that view. Sullivan was almost certainly scapegoated here. But I do want executives personally liable for what their company does. I don’t know enough about the details to have an opinion in this particular case.