From time to time, employees lose company laptops, accidentally leaving them in a bar or on a train. USB sticks go missing too, slipping out of pockets or sliding down the back of sofas, never to be seen again. And of course, some equipment gets stolen.
Workers at the UK’s Ministry of Defence, however, appear to be a particularly lax bunch, having lost possession of 287 computers, 72 hard disks, 73 USB sticks, 28 mobile phones and 194 CDs and DVDs in the last 18 months alone.
If this happened in any government department it would be bad enough, but the fact that it’s the Ministry of Defence, which of course deals with highly sensitive information, is sure to raise eyebrows among the British public.
The UK’s under-secretary of state for defence Andrew Robathan said that in Germany 21 laptops were stolen in a single incident. Another 20 laptops went missing in another incident but were later recovered.
Radios, 3G cards and cameras have also gone missing since the Conservative-led coalition government took office in 2009.
Robathan tried to calm fears that confidential material on the computers and storage devices could be accessed, saying that all data was encrypted.
In a parliamentary written answer, Robathan said, “The MoD [Ministry of Defence] takes any loss and theft of communications and information systems and associated media storage devices very seriously. We have robust procedures in place to mitigate against such occurrences and to manage such losses when they do occur.”
He goes on to say that with a global workforce of more than a quarter of a million individuals and with devices being frequently on the move, “it is almost inevitable that equipment will go missing.”
Despite constant reviews of “processes, instructions and technological aids” to prevent the losses, it seems the MoD has made little progress in getting on top of the situation – a report in 2008 said that over a four-year period more than 700 laptops had been lost or stolen at the MoD.