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Source: go2mac.com

Title: Top Secret British Laptop Missing

Full Text COPYRIGHT 2000 go2mac.com

It seems that the British win the most likely to lose a laptop with confidential secrets on it award. According to articles in Wired and MSNBC a British Ministry employee yesterday left a laptop in a taxi containing data about a new weapons system.

The British Defense Ministry has reported 205 laptops missing since 1997 -- most of which contained classified information. That's an average of 51 lost laptops per year. The latest was reported missing on Monday. This one reportedly contained data about new weapons systems. Its owner left it in the back of a taxi.

To combat this spate of missing-in-action machines, the Defense Ministry plans to outfit their absent-minded workers with secret-agent-style briefcases that protect national secrets by automatically destroying the contents of lost laptops' hard drives.

Thieves have been blamed for some of the laptop losses, but the majority of the missing machines were simply mislaid by tipsy or distracted agents.

Several dozen other laptops were lost when their owners forgot them on public transportation.

An agent with MI6, Britain's international intelligence agency, lost her computer after getting drunk in a London tapas bar. She believes she may have left it in the bar.

The Wired article goes on to describe new thief-proof briefcases that the British government is purchasing in an attempt to prevent further laptop security breaches:

The Ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but said in a press release that it plans to protect its laptops by purchasing 15,000 thief-proof briefcases, each priced at 1,000 pounds apiece (about $1,438). The cases open only when supplied with the proper codes. Hopefully, those forgetful agents will manage to remember the codes, since the cases have a built-in electronic self-destruct mechanism that erases a laptop's hard drive if the case is opened by force.

The briefcases also have a tracking feature that allows a computer gone astray to call home for help. And while the machine waits for rescue, the case will shield it from damage by rain, cold, heat and bombs.

The United States is not immune from such lapses in security, "the U.S. State Department recently lost two laptops with information on weapons of mass destruction, one owned by an agent in the Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which contained highly sensitive encryption information. It was lost in April 2000, when it disappeared from the State Department's headquarters."

The issue may seem humorous to some but it brings to light a larger issue of personal data security on laptops. While most PowerBook users probably don't carry around information on weapons of mass destruction or sensitive encryption information, your email and pictures of your vacation to Whistler are probably pretty valuable.

The first lesson here is to back up your data regularly. Get an external hard drive and make a backup of your data folder every month, and if you have sensitive financial or corporate data it may be worth investigating some of the many encryption applications that are on the market. After losing a good chunk of data a few years back I don't usually recommend encryption software (although I am experimenting with PGP) I highly recommend a strict backup regimen to keep your data safe.


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