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Attack of the cryptidiots: One wants Bitcoin-flush hard drive he threw out in 2013 back, the other lost USB stick password

A combined total of $575m deleted... and counting

A couple of news items about what we'll call "cryptidiots" wriggled into the mainstream media this week, momentarily shedding light on the important topics of e-waste and password hygiene for the masses.

James Howells from Newport, Wales, must have been living a tortured existence these last seven years or so, first popping up in 2013 when he told the BBC that he mistakenly chucked out a hard drive containing 7,500 Bitcoin that he'd obtained four years earlier for a steal.

Towards the end of 2013, a single unit of the cryptocurrency hit $1,000 in value so naturally he was feeling a little foolish. If true, that was $7.5m gone.

"I kept the hard drive in a drawer in my office for three years without a second thought – totally forgot about Bitcoin altogether. I had been distracted by family life and moving house," Howells told the Beeb.

"Fast forward to 2013 which is when I had a clearout of my old IT equipment – I hadn't used this drive for over three years, I believed I'd taken everything off it... so it got thrown in the bin."

He headed to the landfill where he was told items that arrived "three or four months ago could be three to five feet deep" so that kicked his hopes into the long grass.

Now that the $7.5m is worth almost $300m, Howells has resurfaced once more to insist that his local council allow him to excavate the tip in search of the mythical hard drive, offering the authority a cut of his fortune for the trouble.

The council said no. A spokeswoman told the BBC again: "Newport City Council has been contacted a number of times since 2013 about the possibility of retrieving a piece of IT hardware said to contain Bitcoins.

"The first time was several months after Mr Howells first realised the hardware was missing.

"The council has told Mr Howells on a number of occasions that excavation is not possible under our licencing permit and excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.

"The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds – without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order."

Lost the piece of paper

In related news, a couple of days ago Britain's The Sun newspaper ran a yarn about a "computer programmer" who had 7,002 Bitcoin on an IronKey encrypted USB stick, which he received for an animation job in 2011.

Today that's worth $277m. The only problem is that he supposedly "lost the piece of paper on which he wrote his password" and the storage device allows for 10 attempts before rendering its contents irretrievable. He's on try number eight.

San Francisco resident Stefan Thomas told the red top: "I would just lay in bed and think about it. Then I'd go to the computer with some new strategy and it wouldn't work and I'd be desperate again."

We're guessing "123456" isn't it.

He has placed the drive in "a secure facility" until some manner of cracking it comes to light "for my own sanity".

The Register has little sympathy for the two men's plight. First of all, e-waste is an environmental catastrophe. You probably shouldn't put hard drives and the like in general waste without checking that parts of it can't be recycled or otherwise safely disposed of. Howells also needs to know when to give up if the HDD could have already been five foot under all those years ago. Not only is there no guarantee of finding it, there's also no guarantee he'd find it intact or the data recoverable – meaning the whole operation would more than likely be a fool's errand from the start.

Stefan, on the other hand... well, IT professionals should know better. OK, in some ways writing down a password then keeping it in a safe place is more secure than using one of the dime-a-dozen password managers out there. You can't hack a piece of paper, but it's not a particularly resilient storage medium if you leave it in your back pocket then put your jeans through the wash.

To conclude: LOL. ®

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