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UK data losses keep growing

Government and private sector still failing basic tests

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A Freedom of Information request by infrastructure specialist Software AG reveals that more companies and government departments than ever are reporting data losses to the Information Commissioner's Office.

There were 356 self-reported data losses this year - between November 2008 and September 2009. This compares to 190 incidents between October 2007 and November 2008.

The biggest cause of loss, 127 incidents, were due to stolen hardware, usually laptops. Another 71 were blamed on lost hardware, typically memory sticks and 78 due to data disclosed in error - misaddressed discs or memory sticks - both of which could be easily avoided by using basic encryption and secure online delivery. Some 24 data loss incidents were blamed on couriers or the postal service.

Unsurprisingly Software AG does not think this is an indication of the success of the ICO's voluntary scheme which asks CIOs to report data losses. Rather it suggests that companies and other organisations are still failing to put in place simple technologies and procedures to stop such losses.

The last figures released by the ICO itself, in October 2008, showed 277 incidents since Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs lost the child benefit database a year earlier. 80 of those incidents came from the private sector, and the rest from various government departments, local authorities and health authorities.

Tim Holyoake, lead technologist at Software AG, said the problem should be declining not getting worse. He said: "Organisations are failing to learn from previous examples. Few data losses have occurred where organisations have invested in secure, electronic data transfer technologies. This begs the question, why aren’t CIOs insisting on greater use of these solutions?"

Maybe the postal strike will get people using secure, electronic data transfer. ®

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