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Exclusive When Ernst & Young loses a laptop, it doesn't mess around. The Register has learned that the same missing system with personal information on Sun Microsystems, Cisco, IBM and BP workers also contained data on Nokia's US staff.

A Nokia source notified us that he received a letter from Ernst & Young detailing the accounting firm's loss of his personal information. An Ernst & Young spokesman then confirmed that the laptop was "the same" machine with thousands of Sun, Cisco, IBM and BP staff data, including their ages, social security numbers, tax identification numbers and addresses. Ernst & Young continues to maintain that the laptop poses little risk as it was password protected.

Some rather prominent security folk, however, dispute Ernst & Young's contention. This letter comes from a top security expert at a very, very large technology company. We've agreed to protect his identity.

I am a former Partner of Ernst & Young's Technology & Security Risk Services practice for the Greater China region and was a Senior Manager for the US practice in the same area. I am horrified at what I have read about this rash of laptop losses since all the Big 4 firms have the technical talent and general security knowledge to know that passwords alone are not nearly secure enough and you don't leave laptops with sensitive data lying around anywhere!

While at E&Y we, at least my team, was required to keep sensitive data secure. Never leave laptops around even in the office, use cable locks or lock them in cabinets out of site in addition to using bios passwords and encrypt sensitive data. Why is this data residing on laptops when it can just as easily be controlled on a secure server with secure, authenticated (2 factor) access and full audit trailing?

Finally, when it came to laptop losses in my region of Greater China or in the US, rarely was the theft merely a coincidental theft. Many such thefts are targeted; maybe some further investigation is necessary here.

I confirmed this informally a while back with friends at KPMG and PwC. Every major security journal, yours included, has noted the movement from shotgun style hacker attacks to pin-point ID thefts. Real criminals are getting involved in this very lucrative business and a loose laptop is obviously a prime target. I note that many of these Big 4 pros carry laptops in "Big 4" logo marked laptop bags - hey, why not just put a sign on the bag saying 'likely sensitive data on board, steal me!' My bag is, and always has been, basic black and does not leave my side.

In fact, many of the above Big 4 firms report annually security surveys about precisely these trends in security. At the very least, I would have expected some managing partners of these firms in the US and other partnerships around the world to immediately advise staff of precautions to take with this critically sensitive data and for the partners to be transparent about it.

Isn't that what they are requiring of companies via SOX and other audit requirements related work? Isn't transparency and accountability what they talk about everyday? Why aren't they being held to the same standard they require of all their clients?

Best regards,

[Name Supplied]

The points raised in this letter are key.

Ernst & Young has refused repeated requests to provide more information as to why an employee left this laptop in a place where it could be stolen, and if anyone has been held accountable for the incident or what measures it's taking to prevent future problems. In addition, the company has maintained a code of silence around the incidents, instead of coming forward in a transparent manner as it would have customers do.

Ernst & Young has only admitted to these laptop losses on a case-by-case basis after being confronted by The Register in our string of exclusive stories on this matter. The company was also outed as having lost four more laptops last month in Miami when a police report was made public.

Oddly, no other major publication has reported on the Ernst & Young incidents. The mainstream press, however, rushed to follow on our revelation that Fidelity had lost a laptop containing data on 200,000 HP workers. ®

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