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Data at risk as dry cleaning customers leave USB sticks in pockets

More than 23,000 electronic devices containing sensitive information are found in customers’ pockets by dry cleaners every year, with only just more than half of devices returned to their owners.

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Dry cleaners in the UK find an average of four USB sticks every year in their customers’ pockets, according to a new survey from software solutions firm ESET.

The firm has calculated that dry cleaners find a total of 22,266 abandoned USB sticks every year based on the number of businesses in the UK.

Additionally, dry cleaning businesses found 973 mobile phones in their customers’ pockets in the space of a year, meaning more than 23,000 electronic devices containing sensitive personal information wind up in the hands of dry cleaning firms every year.

45 per cent of all devices lost at dry cleaning businesses are never returned to their owners, while only just over half are successfully returned.

Two per cent of devices remain completely unaccounted for.

“It is a huge concern that so many devices are being completely forgotten about by their owners, particularly in light of the fact that stories about the loss of crucial information is creating news headlines every day,” said Mark James, a security specialist at ESET.

“However, what is most astounding about the research is the fact that so many devices never actually get returned to their owners.

“The number of USB sticks and mobile devices that are left in dry cleaners each year is staggering and clearly highlights the need for people to pay closer attention to protecting their data.

“In the wake of recent security breaches against high profile organisations it is time for people to start taking their own security more seriously.”

James warned that cyber criminals are continually mining for data to sell on the dark web due to the prices it can fetch, emphasising that consumers need to be vigilant about the protection of their data.

Owing to the number of devices lost, James also said that UK businesses could be at risk as it is likely that devices containing sensitive corporate data could be among those never returned to their owners.

Security firms urge firms to use a combination of staff training, comprehensive policy and use of technology to prevent employees from downloading unencrypted sensitive data to combat the issue.

Dry cleaners also said that they had found items such as Viagra, condoms, dentures, cash, chips and dead rats in the pockets of garments, although all of these were less common than USB sticks.


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