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Unencrypted traveler data laptop disappears then reappears

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Update

The missing laptop has now been found – in the office from which it was apparently stolen.

A spokesperson for Verified Identity Pass which operates the program said late yesterday the laptop was “not in an obvious location” according to local news station CBS 5. She added that the firm was investigating whether the laptop had ever been stolen, or simply misplaced.

Whether the laptop left the office is neither here not there. Afterall, if the data was unencrypted, why would an ID thief bother lifting a whole laptop, when he could just slip a USB drive into his pocket.

The spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle that a preliminary investigation showed the data had not been compromised.

New sign-ups to the Clear program remain suspended.

Our original story is below:

In one of the more colossal security blunders in a long time, an unencrypted laptop containing sensitive information for 33,000 travelers has been reported stolen from San Francisco International Airport.

The PC contained names, addresses, birth dates and in some cases driver's license numbers and passport numbers for people who enrolled in a program called Clear, according to news reports. Clear allows travelers to expedite their trip through airport security if they are willing to pay $100 per year and surrender biometric information such as iris scans. The stolen laptop didn't contain biometric details, Clear officials said.

Officials with Transportation Security Administration say the laptop was discovered missing from a locked room more than a week ago, but unbelievably, they weren't warned until Sunday. It belonged to a company called Verified Identity Pass, which administers the Clear program.

As if the lack of encryption and a tardy warning weren't enough, the company's CEO, Steven Brill, dismissed the incident as a simple burglary of a laptop. "For it to be more than that, the thief would have to hack into two different passwords - and even then would not get what identity thieves want most - a Social Security number and/or credit card information." Evidently, Brill has never heard of identity theft or programs like John the Ripper.

In the meantime, the TSA is suspending new enrollments into Clear, assuming there were still people interested. ®

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