Feeds

Confidential Home Office data turns up in laptop on eBay

But encrypted this time

Seven Steps to Software Security

Yet more confidential UK government files may have been mislaid by public servants. However, in a sign that Whitehall may be raising its game slightly, this time the data was encrypted - and the copies originally lost have been recovered.

The Guardian reports today that a small IT-repair firm near Bolton received a laptop on Tuesday from a customer who said it had been bought on eBay. When the laptop was opened up by an engineer, an optical disk marked "Home Office" and "Confidential" was discovered under the keyboard.

Lee Bevan of Leapfrog computers told the Graun: "This seemed like just another IT repair... the customer said he had bought it on eBay and seemed quite innocent. It was just an ordinary laptop and it was only when we opened up the keyboard that we found the disk - it had the words Home Office and Confidential written on it.

"The disk appeared to be hidden deliberately underneath the keyboard. We put the disk in the drive to see what it was, but it was encrypted.

"As soon as I saw it belonged to the Home Office I placed it in the company safe and called the police. Luckily, it has ended up in the right hands. The police were here most of the day examining the laptop and the disk."

According to the Home Office, both the optical disk and the laptop hard drive were encrypted, though it was not confirmed that the laptop was definitely government property. It is not yet known how the machine and disk had wound up on eBay.

The Home Office said the fact the data was encrypted "safeguarded" it, which is broadly true. Assuming properly-implemented modern encryption, it would be practically impossible to read the files on a laptop or disk without possession of the relevant keys.

However, in certain unusual circumstances a savvy attacker can lift the keys from computer memory. More plausibly, keys are often written down and carried about together with laptops, are easily guessed, or otherwise discovered.

The possibility also exists of the encrypted government files having been copied, which is much easier than decrypting them - although not as trivially easy as copying normal unprotected files.

Another thing to bear in mind, of course, is that all the data may have already been lost in other massive governmant data blunders of recent times; which would make this incident rather irrelevant. It may be that someone pinched a Home Office laptop and thought "chuh, another laptop and disk with everyone's personal data. I've got the whole UK on file already, I'll just sell the gear on eBay". ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
UK Parliament rubber-stamps EMERGENCY data grab 'n' keep bill
Just 49 MPs oppose Drip's rushed timetable
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
Delaware pair nabbed for getting saucy atop Mexican eatery
Burrito meets soft taco in alleged rooftop romp outrage
LightSquared backer sues FCC over spectrum shindy
Why, we might as well have been buying AIR
'Two-speed internet' storm turns FCC.gov into zero-speed website
Deadline for comments on net neutrality shake-up extended to Friday
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.