The US government has launched a criminal investigation into Uber for the use of secret software that enabled the ride-sharing company to operate in areas where it was banned or restricted, The Washington Post has reported.

The Justice Department probe is the latest blow for the company, which has been rocked by a series of embarrassing disclosures about a culture of sexism, cut-throat workplace tactics and a lawsuit from Google's parent company accusing Uber of stealing technology.

The investigation is in its early stages, the Post reported, citing a person familiar with the probe.

The software program, called Greyball and first revealed by the New York Times in March, enabled drivers to avoid detection from the transportation authorities by identifying regulators posing as Uber customers in order to deny them rides.