The Waymo v. Uber trial ended in a $245 million settlement earlier this month, closing out days of courtroom proceedings in which a digital forensics consulting firm emerged as a key entity.
Waymo (owned by Google) accused rideshare company Uber of using trade secrets and other confidential information that was stolen from Google by its former employee Anthony Levandowski. Levandowski was intimately involved in developing self-driving cars for Google but he and several other colleagues left abruptly in January 2016 to start up their own self-driving company, OttoMotto. Ottomotto was independent only for a few months before it was bought by Uber for $680 million later that year.
Before Uber bought Ottomotto, it hired forensic consultancy Stroz Friedberg to perform due diligence on Ottomotto. According to a post by Christopher Burgess on Security Boulevard, Stroz Friedberg had:
Forensically preserved 28 devices and 25 cloud-based repositories of the four former Google employees. From these devices and repositories, Stroz preserved 100,000 potentially relevant documents (email, chat, text and documents), 74,000 potentially relevant images and 176,000 source code files.
Melanie Maugeri, then Stroz Friedberg manager of digital forensics, testified that Levandowski did admit to having proprietary Waymo files on his computer. Levandowski also copied those proprietary files on several external devices that he had never surrendered to Stroz Friedberg. Due to the limited time for review, Maugeri was also unable to visit Ottomotto’s headquarters to check up on their servers.
The 34-page Stroz report and Waymo’s own records of Levandowski downloading intellectual property on his personal devices formed the basis of the suit against Uber. Levandowski refused to testify when the court case was filed and he was fired by Uber the end of May last year.
Included in Stroz Fiedberg’s report of the last-accessed files on Levandowski’s computer were a picture of a basket of muffins, a picture of a bottle of Listerine, a picture of a screwdriver, and a picture of a hanging plant. Uber’s attorneys hammered on the muffins perhaps to deflect that some of the deleted files were a picture of a diagram of Google’s autonomous vehicle and a confidential presentation on a self-driving car. Maugeri said she did not know if the muffin picture was in the same file folders as the proprietary document s but that “they’re on the same report as the muffins.”
The Stroz report highlighted some of the abilities of digital forensics firms, among them their ability to recover and preserve deleted and shredded files, their capacity to make sense of these disjointed files, and their facility in presenting it to the court. Some of the shortcomings were also on display such as their inability to track down the external devices that had been used to contain the confidential files. Institutional weakness was also displayed in the lack of follow-up to the questions raised by its own report.
The day after the Stroz report was heard in court, Uber settled the case for $245 million, an apology from its chair, Dara Khosrowshahi, and a promise not to use any of Waymo’s technology.