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(Wick Hill's PR)

The real cost of losing your laptop by Ian Kilpatrick, managing director Wick Hill Group

August 1999
645 words

Trident nuclear missile secrets of great value to this country's opponents. The Allies' Gulf war strategies. Operational details of how one of Her Majesty's prisons is run.

What do these pieces of information have in common? You might think that they're all highly confidential and would be well guarded at a secure location. Unfortunately not. All of the above were on laptops which were stolen and illustrate what might be called 'laptop lunacy'.

Laptop computers are now a very common site on trains and anywhere business people meet. It's not unusual to see them left unattended and vulnerable to theft. They may be forgotten or the wrong laptop may even be picked up by mistake.

Almost 100 laptops a year are actually handed in to London Transport's Lost Property Office, and more are probably lost but kept by the finders. Many people also leave laptops in the boots of their cars - both the Trident laptop and the Gulf War laptop were stolen in this way.

While regular businesspeople may not have information quite as earth-shattering as the Trident secrets or Gulf War strategies on their lap-tops, most contain content that is either commercially confidential or personal to the laptop owner - or more likely both. At best the loss of this information could be embarrassing. At worst, it could adversely affect a company's financial standing, cause a fall in share prices or be the cause of legal problems.

Take for example the soap opera producer who lost a laptop with the plot development of a well-known soap and details of which characters were for the chop. Rather embarrassing. On the more serious side, information lost could include client details (both personal and corporate), confidential business plans, and acquisition research.

Information stored on laptops comes under the Data Protection Act and those storing it are required to take 'reasonable precautions' to protect it. It could be argued that insecurely storing information on a laptop and losing it or having it stolen from the boot of a car did not constitute 'reasonable precautions'. Especially if all that protected it was a password, which could be easily broken by running one of a number of programs downloaded from the Internet.

Why is it that we hear very little about missing laptops, considering the numbers that undoubtedly are stolen or lost? Some employees may fear disciplinary action and may even lie to their employers about what was on the laptop to avoid such action.

Employers may fear legal repercussions from the Data Protection Act as mentioned above. They may also fear the consequences on the company's share price and reputation if the loss is made public. Very often those concerned cling to the desperate hope that the finder or thief just wanted the hardware, not the content,

Given that laptops are with us for good, that people find them very useful, and that people will continue to lose them, one easy, highly effective way to deal with the problem is to encrypt the information stored on them.

Encryption is the scrambling of information so it is unreadable without special software decryption keys - a bit like a code. Encrypting a laptop hard disk means it is virtually impossible for a thief to decipher the information stored on it.

Encryption doesn't affect the normal operation of the laptop but it does mean that in the event of loss all a company or individual has to worry about is the replacement value of the unit - not a potential corporate or governmental PR disaster.

If it's that easy then you'd expect the vast majority of laptops to be encrypted. You'd be wrong! Of the few laptops that are encrypted, many are actually replacements for unencrypted ones that have been lost or stolen!

This situation is even more staggering when you realise that the cost of software to encrypt a laptop is only around £50, less than the typical price of a laptop carrying case. And a lot less than the cost of a court martial or being handed your P45.
Ian Kilpatrick is managing director of Guildford-based Wick Hill Group, specialists in information access, delivery, management and security. Wick Hill Group provides laptop encryption software of the type mentioned in this article.

Annabelle Brown, Public Relations Consultant,31 Kew Gardens, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear,NE26 3LY Tel: 0191 252 8548; Fax: 0191 252 2271

This press release was distributed by ResponseSource Press Release Wire on behalf of Annabelle Brown in the following categories: Consumer Technology, Personal Finance, Business & Finance, Computing & Telecoms, for more information visit