Lost and Found: USB Sticks with 460,000 people’s data

TOKYO – The last thing the technician had to do after last week’s shift was erase the secret information of the USB sticks.

Instead, once he had transferred the data, he put the small storage devices in his pocket and went to a izakaya. There, he spent about three hours drinking sake with three colleagues, then staggered on the street before losing consciousness.

By the time he woke up around 3 a.m. last Wednesday, his bag – containing two USB drives, one of which was a backup device with the same information – was gone. So does his exact memory of what happened.

Also missing, officials in Amagasaki, an industrial city northwest of Osaka, explained at a press conference that it was the names, dates of birth and ID numbers of about 460,000 people: the entire population of the city. Their home addresses and bank details are also in the database.

The man, who has not been identified, is a subcontractor of Biprogy, a technology company hired by the city to distribute benefits to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Part of that task involved transferring residents’ private details from the city’s computer to a call center in Suita, a nearby city in Osaka Prefecture, which would help them know the details. about payment.

He took the day off work the next day to find the drive. Unable to find them, later that day, he reported his disappearance to the police station in Suita, where he went drinking with co-workers. He warned his workplace.

The next day, the company formed a search group. When that attempt failed, Amagasaki officials held their prescribed briefing.

“I apologize from my heart for causing trouble for the people,” Kazumi Inamura, the mayor of Amagasaki, said at a press conference.

Tomotsugu Nakao, another city official, added that the information on the USB sticks is protected by a 13-digit alphanumeric password.

Angry residents flooded city offices with 30,000 angry calls within 24 hours. Online users searched listings on online marketplaces for “Amagasaki encrypted flash drives” and speculated how long does it take to crack the password. An electronics company has seized the opportunity to remind the public of its encrypted USB sticks, which they describe as non-intrusive.

The next day, two days after they went missing, the lost thumb drives resurfaced, still in their old bag, outside an apartment building in Suita. Biprogy held another press conference to share the good news.

It’s not clear how the USB sticks got there or who found them, but company officials say the password hasn’t changed and there’s been no indication so far that the data has been compromised. offense.

“He was so drunk that he fell asleep. His memory is hazy, so it’s possible that he himself went there,” Yuji Takeuchi, the company’s director, said as he offered a theory.

Takeuchi said the company had not fully explained to city officials that the USB drive would be used to transfer data and that only one employee would carry out the task. In the future, he added, the company will employ more than one employee to transfer such data or hire secure delivery services.

“Reflecting fiercely on the incident, we will undertake to educate our staff so that this does not happen again,” he said.

A Biprogy representative said the employee has worked for nearly two decades in the industry and deeply regrets not deleting the data immediately after completing his job. Akiyoshi Hiraoka, president and chief executive officer of Biprogy, says employees will be disciplined, though the company has yet to decide how.

USB sticks, small and easy to lose, have played a role in costly mishaps before. Heathrow Airport fined $147,000 in 2018 after an employee lost an unencrypted hard drive containing the names, passport numbers and dates of birth of 10 people.

But many items lost in Japan have also been recovered. The country has been highly efficient lost and found net for many years, with about 6,000 police stations known as “koban” in neighborhoods across the country.

In 2015, 26.7 million items, excluding cash, were taken to the Japanese police. In 2016, 3.67 billion yen, or about $27 million in cash, was returned to the police alone in Tokyo.

Makiko Inoue from Tokyo and Tiffany May from Hong Kong.

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