An increasing number of laptops are being lost by UK government departments, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed.
USB drive supplier Apricorn submitted FoI requests to five government departments, asking about the security of devices held by employees.
Three of the five departments responded and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had the dubious honour of topping the list with 354 mobile phones, PCs, laptops and tablets lost or stolen in 2018/19, compared with 229 devices in 2017/18.
The number of lost laptops alone went up from 45 in 2016/17 to 201 in 2018/19 — an increase of more than 400% in three years.
Similar requests showed that the Department for Education recorded 91 devices lost or stolen in the past year, compared with 130 in 2018, while NHS Digital lost 35, a decrease from 58 devices a year ago.
Commenting on the findings, Apricorn’s EMEA managing director Jon Fielding said: “Whilst devices are easily misplaced, it’s concerning to see such vast numbers being lost and stolen, particularly given the fact these are government departments ultimately responsible for volumes of sensitive public data.
“A lost device can pose a significant risk to the government if it is not properly protected.”
All three government departments confirmed that USB and storage devices are encrypted.
The MoJ also noted that the USB ports on its laptops and desktops are restricted and can only be used when individuals have requested that the ports be unlocked.
Meanwhile, the Department for Education has an acceptable use policy that ensures staff take “all reasonable care” of their devices and offers guidelines on reporting if lost or stolen. The MoJ remotely blocks or disables any lost or stolen device to minimise the risk of a data leak.
With sensitive data often stored on mobile and laptop devices, Fielding warned: “If a device that is not secured is lost and ends up in the wrong hands, the repercussions can be hugely detrimental, even more so with GDPR now in full force.”
He added that there is a need for hardware encrypted storage devices to be provided as standard and whitelisted on the IT infrastructure, blocking access to all non-approved media. “Should a device then go missing the data cannot be accessed or used inappropriately.”
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