If you had an Uber account in October 2016, then you are probably among the 2.7 million users in the UK to have had personal information stolen at that time

Uber logoI’m basing that “probably” on the fact that the Independent says that there are CURRENTLY 3 million Uber users in the UK.

From what I have read, the “only” information stolen was users’ names, addresses and mobile phone numbers. I haven’t seen anything that suggests that credit card information was stolen. I’m a bit surprised (and sceptical) about this as I’m sure I had to give all of that to Uber when I (very briefly!) had an account with them in the summer of this year. Uber, themselves, say that credit card information was not stolen, but you probably won’t be any more reassured by that than I was. Uber’s new CEO said on this subject:

“Our outside forensics experts have not seen any indication that trip location history, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers or dates of birth were downloaded.”

As we all know, though, absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. You can read all of Dara Khosrowshahi’s statement on Uber’s 2016 Data Security Incident by clicking here.

If you had an Uber account last year and want to check whether you’ve had information stolen then I suggest you check with “Have I been pwned?“.

Uber app on an iPhoneEven if no financial information, or information about specific Uber transactions, were stolen, the theft of names and email addresses can make other scams and crimes more likely against those affected. In particular, the combination of username and password stolen from Uber is likely to be tried in lots of other places online. You know what’s coming next – do not use the same password for more than one account. If “have I been pwned?” suggests your email address has been caught up in ANY data breaches (including the Uber one) then I really do recommend that you knuckle down to the chore of changing your passwords for all sensitive accounts and make the password unique to each account.

I suspect I’m banging my head against a brick wall, here, just as I suspect the same when haranguing my IT support clients about making data backups. However, I’ve seen enough grief and problems caused that I think it’s worth persevering with these issues.

Cabbie against Uber

Well, here’s one person who hopes Uber will lose their appeal

What really hit the headlines about this breach wasn’t the fact that data had been stolen. It wasn’t even the fact that Uber had failed to tell its users of the breach. It was the fact that they had paid the hackers $100,000 to keep the breach quiet.

Surely even the most hardened “free enterprise supporter” would agree that this is indefensible. Not exactly the kind of thing that Uber want to come to light at the moment, with Transport for London having already concluded that “Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence”. (source: TfL). Although Uber’s licence to operate in London has now expired, they will be allowed to continue to operate until the result of legal appeals is announced. This could take a year, but hearings could start as soon as this month (December 2017).

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From time to time, clients ask me which browser I use, and I reply “Firefox”..

I started using Firefox just because it wasn’t the leading browser (which was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at that time). However, there were a few substantive reasons as well – it was faster, more secure and (most relevant for this blog post), there were lots of bells and whistles you could add on to it.

Firefox is developed and made freely available by an organisation called Mozilla. This is a community of programmers who spend their own time developing Firefox. Mozilla is also responsible for the “Thunderbird” email program. Since Firefox is an open source program, outside programmers and organisations can make their “bells and whistles” (more properly known as “add-ons” and “extensions”) work nicely with the main product.

By the way, having a touch of pedantry about me, I’ve been trying to find out exactly what differentiates “add-ons” from “extensions” and can’t find an answer. This is made worse by also having things called “plug-ins” that seem to do the same thing. The important point here, though, is that there are hundreds of these goodies that you can add to Firefox. I don’t recommend installing them willy-nilly and then keeping them installed unless you find them useful, as there’s bound to be some kind of overhead in having them there. At best, they may have an un-noticeable effect on the performance of your browser. At worst, they can slow it down disastrously or even break it.

But now – at last – to the main point. I don’t like adverts on websites – in particular, the ones that blink and shout and scream at me. I spend lots of money every month with Mr Google so that he will advertise my services on Google Search pages, so I accept that I could be accused of hypocrisy in complaining about ads and even trying to block them. I prefer to think in terms of pragmatism. Anyway, when I discovered an add-on for Firefox called AdBlock Plus I was more chained to Firefox than ever, as it does exactly what it says on the tin (yes, I know that expression comes from an ad).

TfL Journey Planner Website with Ads

TfL Journey Planner with ads highlighted (by me) with red frames

AdBlock Plus will more-or-less remove all ads from most browser windows. I hardly ever encounter ads when I’m at my own main laptop. Today, however, I was updating my client database and needed some information from the highly recommended Transport for London Journey Planner. So I opened Safari on my Mac Mini, went to the TfL website, and was quite unreasonably annoyed to have ads distracting me. I decided to put in a bit of work to see if AdBlock Plus is now more widely available than just for Firefox.

TfL Journey Planner Without Ads

Aah, that’s better. Now the dog can see the rabbit.

And it is! See https://adblockplus.org. If you visit that site, it will recognise which browser you are using, so will offer to install the correct version. I notice that the Mac Safari version is a “beta” version. This means that it is developed to the point that they want a lot of people to be using it so that they can see if it works, and find any wrinkles that need ironing out. So, you install anything that is flagged as a “beta” version at your own risk. If you ever encounter a program described as being an “alpha” version then run away from it very quickly unless you are very nerdy and looking for trouble.

So, I’ve put the beta version of AdBlock Plus on the Mac Mini and we’ll see how it goes. Upon installation, it also offered to do the following:

  • Block known malware websites.
  • Remove social media buttons (Facebook “likes” etc). Most people don’t realise that these are trackers and you don’t need to click on them to give your browsing habits to Facebook.
  • Disable tracking in other ways.

I’m in favour of all of these, so I’ve turned them all on.

AdBlockPlus logoNot only is AdBlock Plus now available on Safari, but also on Chrome, Android, Opera and Internet Explorer.

I do accept that there is a debate to be had about whether it is right to block ads, since that is the source of revenue for a lot of websites. Just to toss a few ingredients into that debate:

  • Why do the ads have to have those incredibly annoying and distracting animations? Surely they put more people off than they attract?
  • There are other ways of financing things. Lots of mobile apps, for instance, offer a free, ad-supported version and an inexpensive alternative that is ad-free. I think this is a brilliant idea. You can use the free one to see if it’s an app that you really want and then pay for it to remove the rubbish if you want to. Maybe that idea isn’t easily transferrable to website financing.
  • Ads are just not appropriate on lots of websites. Are they appropriate on TfL’s Journey Planner? I was about to say “no” and then I thought about the gerzillions of posters on the tube. Would I ban those? No, I don’t think I would.

Conclusion: as long as ads are irritating and intrusive I’m going to continue to block them when I can. Good on you, AdBlock Plus.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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