Stefan Thomas, a German programmer based in the US city of San Francisco, cannot access the encrypted hard drive where he stored the keys to the digital wallet that safeguards his digital assets. More than $250 million is at risk, should he fail to remember the password. 

The password will let him unlock a small hard drive, known as an IronKey, which contains the private keys to a digital wallet that holds 7,002 Bitcoin. IronKey is  a digital tool that offers security and privacy to such an extent that there are only ten attempts before the contents are formatted and deleted. So far, the billionaire tried eight times some of his most used passwords, but none of them proved effective.

“I would lie in bed and think about it. Then I’d go to the computer with a new strategy, and it wouldn’t work, and I’d be desperate again,” he told The New York Times.

The money was received by him as payment for a service he provided in Switzerland in 2011. At the time, he did not know the value of this cryptocurrency. The value was only about 5,000 euros, but ten years later and after the popularization of these, the value increased by a further 44,000%.

Apparently, this man’s story is not unique in the world of digital assets. Of the 18.5 million Bitcoin in existence, around 20%, currently worth around US$140 billion, appears to be in lost or stranded wallets, according to cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis. Bitcoin owners who are locked out of their wallets speak of endless days and nights of frustration as they have tried to get access to their fortunes. Many have owned the coins since Bitcoin’s early days a decade ago, when no one had confidence that the tokens would be worth anything.

The company Wallet Recovery Services also helps to find lost digital keys. According to them, they received around 70 requests a day from people wanting to recover their passwords.

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