MOD Laptop ‘anomalies’ = systemic failure

Search Security published this, on 29 July 2008:

Last week, the MoD was forced, in an answer to a parliamentary question, to admit that during the last four years, 658 of its laptops were stolen, and another 89 lost. Only 32 of the devices have been recovered. In addition, 121 USB memory sticks have been taken or misplaced since 2004, with 26 of the losses happening this year, including three that contained information classified as “secret” and 19 that were “restricted”.

What makes the news even more depressing is that earlier estimates of losses had put the scale of the problem much lower (at 347 laptops stolen between 2004 and 2007). Defence Secretary Des Browne explained that there had been “anomalies” in the earlier reporting process.

Of course, any organisation that can undercount the number of lost laptops over a three year period by about 50% doesn’t actually have a functioning system for accounting for its laptops. A functioning system, in an organisation like the MOD, might have components like:

* Loss of any laptop treated as an information security incident;
* Centralised collation of reports of lost laptops;
* Regular physical checks on the continued existence and status of all laptops;
* Automated monthly online updates of all laptops that both ensure that laptops are not running illegitmate software, that all anti-malware software is up to date, and so on – and, of course, that the laptop is still active and authenticating correctly.
* Any failures in any of these checks should be reconciled with the physical check and the incident reports.

If the MOD had any of these systems in place, it would at least know how many laptops it had lost. As it doesn’t know this (those ‘anomalies’) one’s conclusion must be that it simply hasn’t put in place systems that are adequate to this task. And if it hasn’t bothered even to make sure that it knows where its laptops actually are, how can it really be sure that all of those lost laptops are encrypted and that none of them have been used in a way that would breach data protection law or the security of the realm?

And what makes anyone certain that the more recent figure is any more correct than the earlier underestimate? How does the MOD know that actual laptop losses aren’t running into the thousands?


  1. Bogdan Dragomir September 15, 2008
  2. Svavar Ingi Hermannsson September 15, 2008
  3. Bogdan Dragomir September 15, 2008