One in ten laptops stolen

by CBR Staff Writer| 02 March 2006

Up to one in ten laptops will be stolen during their lifetime according to one of the law enforcement officers behind the www.juststolen.net website, and international accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young was on the wrong end of this statistic recently. With laptops now accounting for around 40% of all computer sales, theft of these expensive devices is now escalating at an alarming rate.

One of the high-profile thefts (at least two were reported in the same week) took place as Ernst & Young auditors left their laptops in a conference room when they went for lunch. Even though the door to the room had a locking mechanism, the thieves were still able to gain access and steal four Dell laptop computers valued at $8,000.

While some might find these circumstances quite astonishing, figures suggest that 40% of laptop thefts happen while at work, and so it is advisable to tether your computer to the desk at all times if possible.

In a written answer to the UK's House of Commons on February 13, 2006, the secretary of state for The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) reported that 21 laptops had been stolen from DTI buildings over the last 12 months (along with one monitor and eight data projectors). On the same day, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) reported that five laptops had been stolen from buildings occupied by this department in the last 12 months - and so the reports go on, and on.

All companies, both large and small, suffer from computer theft. However, with only a 5% chance of recovery according to FBI figures, the impact of these losses is likely to be felt much further than the cost of equipment replacement. Even with a good back-up policy in place for laptop computers, the average user could lose around three to four days of productivity over the course of a couple of weeks following the theft. This could equate to around 100 man-days per year in lost productivity for a company employing 1,000 information workers - no small figure.

Along with lost productivity and equipment replacement costs, senior management should also take into account the information security implications of these thefts. With around 50% of organizations reporting laptop/mobile theft in 2005 (according to the CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey), the chances are that these organizations will also have lost sensitive business information - a problem that is much more difficult to put a price tag on.

Microsoft has at last recognized that the theft or loss of corporate intellectual property is an increasing concern for many of its customers, and so Windows Vista will see the introduction of even more technologies to protect data stored on both desktop and laptop computers.

Although the Windows operating system has provided data encryption facilities for several years, management of this technology has presented something of a challenge. With Vista, however, Microsoft is addressing some of these issues, but customers will only benefit from these if the computer possesses a trusted platform module (TPM) chip (currently available on some Fujitsu products).

The time has come for a concerted effort by the computer industry to adopt a unified approach to the marking and security of IT equipment (much like the motor vehicle industry), and to also introduce alongside this a central database for the registration of corporate and consumer computer equipment that law enforcement organizations can utilize when equipment is recovered.

While this initiative would not eradicate computer theft entirely, it would go some way to reducing it, and the registration database would also provide an effective and efficient way to reunite owners with their equipment and information in the event of it being recovered.

Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)

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