August 28, 2008

The Case of the 12,000 Lost Laptops

By Anonymous

Business travelers are losing more than 12,000 laptops per week at U.S. airports. Only one-third of those are reclaimed, according to a study by the Ponemon Institute, sponsored by Dell. At the same time, more than 53 percent of polled business travelers say their laptops contain confidential or sensitive information, and 65 percent of these travelers admit they do not take steps to protect or secure the information contained on their laptop. Companies are dependent on a mobile workforce with access to information no matter where they travel. This mobility, however, is putting companies at risk of having a data breach if a laptop containing sensitive information is lost or stolen. To gather more information about this concern, the Ponemon Institute conducted field research at 106 major airports in 46 states and surveyed 864 business travelers in an airport environment. Among the findings revealed in this study:

The average loss frequency among the largest U.S. airports is 286 laptops per week or 10,278 for all 36 Class B airports included in the study. The comparable frequency for the remaining large U.S. airports is 28 devices per week, or 1,977 for all 70 Class C airports included in the study.

The airports with the highest number of lost, missing or stolen laptops include: Los Angeles International, Miami International, Kennedy International and Chicago O'Hare. While Adanta's Hartsfield- Jackson International is the busiest airport in the United States, it is tied for eighth place (with Washington's Reagan National) for lost, stolen or missing laptop computers.

The 67 percent of subsequently found laptops remain in the airport until they are disposed of, often sold at auction to the highest bidder or donated to charity, resulting in potentially millions of files containing sensitive or confidential data that may be accessible to a large number of airport employees and contractors.

Part of the problem is that more than 70 percent of business travelers feel rushed when trying to get on their flights, and 60 percent worry that delays due to security checkpoints will cause them to miss their flight.

The stress of rushing to catch a flight, combined with the number of items business travelers typically carry (i.e., laptops, cell phones, PDAs, briefcases, luggage), creates a situation that is conducive to property loss. The rate of loss may be exacerbated by checkpoint security procedures that require passengers to separate from their personal property during electronic scanning or pat downs.

According to the study, the types of company information contained on business travelers' laptop computers include customer or consumer data (47 percent), business confidential information (46 percent), intellectual property such as software code, drawings or renderings (14 percent), and employee records (13 percent).

According to U.S. airport representatives, the most common airport locations where laptops are lost include security checkpoints (40 percent) and departure gates (23 percent).

The average business cost when confidential personal information is lost or stolen is $197 per record, says the Ponemon Institute. Even one missing laptop, however, can become a serious problem for any organization.

Copyright Nelson Publishing Aug 2008

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