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Lost and Found: USB Sticks with Data on 460,000 People


TOKYO — The ultimate thing the technician was speculated to do after a shift last week was clear the USB sticks of their confidential information.

As an alternative, once he had transferred the information, he dropped the tiny storage devices into his bag and headed to an izakaya. There, he spent about three hours drinking sake with three colleagues, then stumbled into the streets before eventually passing out.

By the point he woke up around 3 a.m. last Wednesday, his bag — containing the 2 USB drives, one in every of them a backup device with the identical information — was gone. So was his precise memory of what had happened.

Also missing, embarrassed officials in Amagasaki, an industrial city northwest of Osaka, explained at a news conference, were the names, birthdays and ID numbers of about 460,000 people: your complete population of town. Their home addresses and bank details were within the trove of knowledge, too.

The person, who has not been identified, was a subcontractor of Biprogy, a technology company hired by town to distribute subsidies to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic. A part of that task involved moving the residents’ private details from town’s computers to those of a call center in Suita, a close-by city within the Osaka prefecture, that will help them with the main points of the payout.

He took the subsequent time off from work to search for the drives. Failing to seek out them, later that day he reported the loss to the police station in Suita, where he had gone drinking with colleagues. He alerted his workplace.

The next day, company formed a search party. When that effort failed, Amagasaki officials held their contrite briefing.

“I apologize from my heart for giving trouble to the residents,” Kazumi Inamura, the mayor of Amagasaki, said on the news conference.

The knowledge on the USB sticks was protected by a 13-digit alphanumeric password, added Tomotsugu Nakao, one other city official, in an apparent try to reassure the general public that failed to attain its goal.

Indignant residents flooded town office with 30,000 offended calls inside 24 hours. Online users scoured listings on online marketplaces for “encrypted flash drives in Amagasaki” and speculated how long it will take to crack the password. One electronics company seized the chance to remind the general public about its encrypted USB sticks, which they described as impervious to data breaches.

The subsequent day, two days after the disappearance of the lost thumb drives, the worker found them, still in the identical bag, outside an apartment constructing in Suita while searching the realm with law enforcement officials. Biprogy held one other news conference to share the excellent news.

It was unclear how the USB sticks had gotten there but company officials said that the passwords were unchanged, and there have been to date no indications that the information had been compromised.

“He was drunk to the extent that he fell asleep. His memory was vague, so it’s possible that he himself went there as well,” said Yuji Takeuchi, an organization director, in offering one theory.

Mr. Takeuchi said that the corporate had not sufficiently explained to city officials that USB drives could be used to transfer the information, and that just one worker could be carrying out the duty. In the longer term, he added, the corporate would use multiple worker for such data transfers or hire secure delivery services.

“Fiercely reflecting on the case, we are going to conduct education to our employees in order that this won’t occur again,” he said.

A Biprogy representative said that the worker had worked for nearly 20 years within the industry and deeply regretted his failure to instantly wipe the information after completing his work. Akiyoshi Hiraoka, Biprogy’s president and chief executive, said that the worker could be disciplined, though the corporate had not yet decided how.

USB sticks, small and straightforward to misplace, have played a job in costly mishaps before. Heathrow Airport was fined $147,000 in 2018 after an worker lost an unencrypted hard disk containing, amongst other things, the names, passport numbers and birthdays of 10 people.

But many items lost in Japan have also been recovered. The country has operated highly effective lost and located networks for years, with roughly 6,000 capsule police stations referred to as “koban” in neighborhoods across the country.

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

Makiko Inoue reported from Tokyo and Tiffany May from Hong Kong.

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