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Loss of USB key prompted Ottawa to consider hiring dumpster divers, emails show

Cyber-security is a big deal to Canadians, and with good reason: with the right information, an identity thief can take out a credit card in your name and rack up debt. Or worse. And based on recently released emails, it looks like the Canadian government isn’t taking digital information safety lightly, either.

In an email obtained by Postmedia News, it says that senior bureaucrats were considering paying a professional dumpster diving company $15,000 to locate the missing USB drive. It contained the personal information of more than 5,000 Canadians.

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The email also shows that they also considered burning the garbage, in hopes of destroying the USB key and preventing the information from being found:

“Bryan is looking (at) burning the garbage so if USB key is there this will protect the department (from ) impact or ‘repercussion,’” a Nov. 23 email from Service Canada corporate security manager Jeanne Dufour said, according to The Vancouver Sun.

After consultation between managers in Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, it was decided that the dumpster divers were too expensive and the burning wouldn’t work because, according to the emails, Ottawa had no “incineration capacity.”

The USB key in question was a data storage device being used by Service Canada to store the information of 5,049 disability pension applicants whose claims were under review. Last in the possession of a lawyer working on the cases, the incident took place last November, causing a panic when the lawyer said she couldn’t find the USB key after believing she had left it on her desk.

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Thinking that it may have been tossed in the garbage, the department sent a garbage bin with the day’s trash to an RCMP compound in Ottawa. After giving up on the idea of hiring dumpster divers or burning it, though, the trash with the USB key supposedly in it was shipped to a local trash yard.

What had government employees most worried, however, was the lack of encryption on the USB drive. It was the policy of the department to encrypt data on portable drives, but in this case, it wasn’t.

It isn’t surprising to see that the government would consider such great lengths to protect the missing data of Canadians, considering that there’s been a run of lost data in the last couple of years. In January, it was reported that the names, loan balances and social insurance numbers of over half a million Canadians with student loans was lost by Human Resources Canada, resulting in four lawsuits. That incident took place last November as well.

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