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What the heck was on that stolen laptop?

Cluelessness compounds data disclosure security flaps

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Four in five (81 per cent) US firms have lost at least one laptop containing sensitive data in the last year, according to a new study.

The Confidential Data at Risk (PDF) survey of 500 IT pros by Ponemon Institute was sponsored by data loss prevention firm Vontu, which is using it in the time honored tradition of talking up the need for its security products. However the idea that US businesses are struggling to prevent the loss of confidential data presented in the survey rings all too true, especially following several recent incidents where laptop loss has sparked major security flaps.

Often firms don't have a clue where their sensitive or confidential business information resides within the network or enterprise systems, further compounding the problem. Two in three (64 per cent) of firms responding to the survey said they've never carried out an inventory of customer information. The same percentage said an inventory of employee data had never been carried out at their organisation. Many recent consumer data disclosure SNAFUs have been sparked by the loss of staff laptops but the loss of other portable storage devices or compromised server systems can also results in the exposure of sensitive data. PDAs and laptops ranked highest among storage devices posing the greatest risk for sensitive corporate data, followed by USB memory sticks, desktop systems, and shared file servers.

Queried on how long it would take to determine what actual sensitive data was on a lost or stolen computer or mobile device the most frequent answer by survey respondents was "never" - ranging from 24 per cent for a file server to 62 per cent for an employee's home computer.

"Corporations are clearly struggling with the challenges of identifying and protecting sensitive data, as well as developing successful strategies for securing confidential information stored among the myriad devices that make up today’s data networks," said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. ®

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