Money: Landlord finds millions of confidential files left by defunct IT firm - - PressFrom - Canada
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Money Landlord finds millions of confidential files left by defunct IT firm

11:50  22 november  2019
11:50  22 november  2019 Source:   cbc.ca

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a man standing in front of a box: Gregg Patterson, owner of Bullion Developments Inc., found hard drives, computer servers and even old mail containing the confidential information of several companies and organizations.© Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Gregg Patterson, owner of Bullion Developments Inc., found hard drives, computer servers and even old mail containing the confidential information of several companies and organizations. When one of Gregg Patterson's commercial tenants packed up and moved out in the middle of the night, leaving behind hard drives, computer servers and bankers boxes full of documents, he could have just dumped it all at the curb.

Instead, Patterson decided to hold onto it, and he's glad he did.

Patterson's company, Bullion Developments Inc., owns the two-storey office building on Thurston Drive, in an Ottawa industrial park. Patterson said the tenant, an IT company, stopped paying rent, then left in a hurry.

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A landlord can evict a tenant for the nonpayment of rent, for the failure to vacate the premises after a lease agreement has expired, for a violation of a provision in the rental contract, or if the tenant causes damage to the property and it results in a substantial decrease in the value of the property.

The landlord must file a "complaint" with the court. A complaint contains the facts that justifies the eviction and may contain a request for back rent and damages. The landlord must serve the tenant with the complaint, along with a summons, which is the document informing the tenant of the lawsuit.

CBC has agreed not to name the now-defunct IT company or its former owner to protect information provided by sources for this story.

Among the material the company left behind, Patterson would eventually discover some 10 million digital records including confidential corporate, banking, human resources, tax and personal files.

The data actually belonged to about a dozen Ottawa organizations including a law firm, a film production company, an architecture firm, non-governmental organizations and a political party, each of which had contracted their IT work to the company.

"We sort of discovered this unbelievable set of circumstances we're now living," Patterson said.

Patterson said it started a few years ago when the tenant stopped paying rent.

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"He started defaulting on his lease," Patterson said. "I actually had to serve papers, change locks."

Acting on legal advice, Patterson stored the boxes and computer hardware, but recently decided it was time to either sell it or get rid of it.

Before he did that, Patterson thought he should check if the drives had been wiped clean, so he took the equipment to an a different IT security firm now renting space in his building.

"So they did a quick revision on the drives and found a staggering number of files in the 10-million range, which is baffling to me. How can anybody leave these drives behind? I don't understand," Patterson said.

Forensic examination

The IT company that left the equipment behind no longer exists. Its former CEO confirmed his company experienced money troubles and couldn't pay bills, and acknowledged he'd left some material behind after being locked out of the Thurston Drive office, but denied it contained any confidential files.

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Many landlords operate under the belief that they cannot evict the tenants without a written lease in place. Landlords can proceed with an eviction without having a written lease as long as the tenants have breached the verbal lease in some manner.

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The IT firm the landlord tasked with the forensic examination tells a different story.

"This was huge," said Chris Stratton, CEO of IntelliSyn Communications, the company that analyzed the drives.

"There's passport photos, trust accounts, bank account numbers — some of the stuff on here was just massive in terms of what could have been done. The damage that could have been done to people's lives would have been huge."

Stratton's team is now calling the organizations that own the data they've discovered. They've offered to either return the material or destroy it. Then they will physically shred the hardware.

a close up of a stereo: The IT company left behind about 30 hard drives containing millions of digital files.© Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation The IT company left behind about 30 hard drives containing millions of digital files.

'Trust was broken'

Some of the confidential files belong to LWG Architectural Interiors. The company's owner, Bryan Wiens, said he only recently found out about the discovery of the proprietary information.

"We had no idea they had all that material of ours and it was left behind," Wiens said. "Trust was broken."

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Confidentially definition, spoken, written, acted on, etc., in strict privacy or secrecy; secret: a confidential remark. indicating confidence or intimacy; imparting private matters: a confidential tone of voice. having another's trust or confidence ; entrusted with secrets or private affairs: a

Wiens has asked for the files to be deleted, and he's urging other companies to do their homework before engaging an outside agency to handle confidential files.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Chris Stratton, CEO of IntelliSyn Communications, is now notifying the defunct IT company's former clients that their confidential information has been found. © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Chris Stratton, CEO of IntelliSyn Communications, is now notifying the defunct IT company's former clients that their confidential information has been found.

Who's responsible?

While the landlord in this case has taken responsibility to make sure the files are either returned or destroyed, he's not legally liable.

According to Mark Nunnikhoven, a technology columnist and vice-president of cloud research at Trend Micro, the responsibility actually lies with the companies that were entrusted with the data in the first place.

"If you as a business or an organization are taking in personal data, it's your responsibility to manage that data throughout its lifecycle," Nunnikhoven said. "So if you outsource your IT operations, it's still your responsibility because you're the data owner."

Paper files including mail was also left behind.© Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Paper files including mail was also left behind.

Too often, organizations go looking for the lowest bid when it comes to hiring an outside IT service company, Nunnikhoven said.

"That actually can come around and bite you in the long term, because what you're actually looking for is someone who's going to provide quality services to your company," he said.

Nunnikhoven suggests organizations check references, make sure the company has a track record of success and even "try before you buy."

"Are they going to keep it private or are they going to intermix it with other customers of their own?" he asked. "How do they dispose of it when you are done with that data, and can you get proof of that disposal? Because at the end of the day that's still on you as a business to be responsible for that information."

For now, Patterson said he's the one who's been left on the hook.

"I'm out of pocket to have [the files] professionally shredded with certificates," he said.

But even if it is costing him some money, Patterson said he's glad he didn't just throw everything in the trash.

"I sleep well at night," he said.

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