[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Government laptops 'not secure'
Working on laptops and PDAs
Many sensitive files on laptops are not encrypted
Hundreds of government laptops with potentially sensitive information are being lost or stolen, a study shows.

One in 17 key public sector workers, like government or defence officials, say they have either lost theirs or had them stolen, said security firm Thales.

Those who do hold on to them admit they do not use any kind of encryption to protect sensitive information.

Most rely on passwords to prevent access to files and a surprising number write their passwords down.

Wrong hands

The figures revealed by electronic security company Thales will worry many, particularly when personal computer security has been highlighted by a summer of internet viruses.

'LOST' LAPTOPS 1996 TO 2002
Ministry of Defence
MoD: 594
Work and Pensions: 419
International Development: 115
DTI: 79
Lord Chancellor's Dept: 77
Cabinet Office: 43
Treasury: 14
Northern Ireland Office: 3
Source: Thales
The survey showed that at least 60 of the 200 MoD and government laptops lost or stolen will have contained sensitive information.

Such information could have serious consequences for national security should it fall into the wrong hands, according to Paul Jackson of Thales.

"At a time of heightened national security, the need for data on public sector laptops to be secure has never been more important.

"It is staggering that the vast majority of public sector do not employ mechanisms for encrypting data on the hard disk and hence make it difficult for stored files on stolen laptops to be read."

Tokens

The MoD is now taking steps to protect information on employee laptops by insisting all hard disks are encrypted. This means information is scrambled and can only be unscrambled using the correct passwords.

But making it more difficult to access information on the laptops could also be done by supplementing passwords with extra security tokens, like smart cards.

Government laptops hit the headlines in 2000 when the then armed forces minister, John Spellar, had his stolen from his home. An MI6 officer also left his in a taxi after a night out.

Yet another was "lost" when an MI5 employee put his on the ground to buy a train ticket.




SEE ALSO:
Safer computing versus convenience
15 Aug 03  |  Technology
Doctor's research stolen on laptop
15 Jan 03  |  England
MoD 'loses 600 laptops'
13 Jan 02  |  UK News
Defence consultant's laptop stolen
16 Apr 01  |  UK News


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific