Around 340 laptops that were the property of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and its agents have been lost over the last two years, leading to widespread criticism.
The MoD admitted the serious loss after Lewis PR made a request for statistics under the Freedom of Information Act. When broken down, it was revealed that 120 of the total were stolen while the greater majority were simply lost through carelessness.
Of the 340 laptops that went missing, only 25 were eventually recovered and more than 50 per cent were unencrypted, leaving the data open to exploitation. Further data losses occurred via other portable storage solutions, with 215 thumb drives, 593 optical disks, 13 smartphones and 96 hard drives also listed as lost or stolen over the same period.
Other government departments were implicated, with the Department for Work and Pensions responsible for the loss of 71 laptops and 75 smartphones, whilst the Department for Transport had recorded the loss of 39 PDAs, together with 38 laptops.
A total of 11 governmental departments contributed statistics and between them 518 laptops were recorded as lost or stolen, in addition to 932 other portable storage devices. This has cost the country nearly a million pounds.
The worrying nature of these revelations has been touched upon by numerous security experts and a number have pointed out that the government’s various departments have clearly failed to address the problems of data security and loss prevention in any appropriate manner, whilst at the same time putting national security at risk.
Many believe that the statistics show incompetence and a lack of respect for private data, with human error being the most notable contributing factor to data loss in the public sector. The lack of widespread encryption was identified as making it simple for veteran criminals to access data on lost or stolen devices.
Data breaches are known to cost businesses and organisations millions of pounds and although the material cost of the government’s losses has been calculated, it is unknown precisely how much the loss of the associated data could be worth in real terms.