Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/04/26/tip_secret_laptop/

MoD suppliers' laptop turns up on rubbish tip

Disposal practices stink

By John Leyden

Posted in CIO, 26th April 2005 13:52 GMT

An Oxfordshire-based security company claims to have found sensitive MoD-related files on a laptop bought from council rubbish dump.

The partner of a back-office worker at penetration testing outfit SecureTest bought the IBM Thinkpad laptop for £80 from a colleague at a council rubbish tip earlier this month.

SecureTest staff looked at machine for a favour. The technician who investigated files left on the machine with forensic tools (called ENcase) was shocked at what he found: recovered tenders for military communications software contracts, technical information and minutes of meetings with Navy personnel marked restricted. "It looks like a MoD supplier’s laptop," Ken Munro, managing director of SecureTest told El Reg. No secret files were involved but even so the case raises further questions about the disposal of PCs containing potentially sensitive military information.

Last week the MoD announced it was launching an investigation after a Hampshire man found sensitive Ministry of Defence plans on a laptop he was given at a rubbish dump*, circumstances that eerily parallel the SecureTest find. SecureTest is yet to inform the MoD of its find. Munro declined to name the dump involved or the IT contractor whose laptop, although ultimately beyond economic repair, contained sensitive data.

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Despite the government bringing in a new standard last August for the secure destruction of data (InfoSec standard 5) many government departments have failed to implement it successfully and most business are unaware of it, according to Jon Godfrey, a data destruction expert and managing director of Life Cycle Services (LCS). In a recent research study by LCS and Glamorgan University, nearly half of a sample of over 100 discarded hard drives contained personal information, contravening the Data Protection Act. One in five (20 per cent) contained financial information about the organisations which owned the disks. Less then 10 per cent of the drives left functional were completely clear of data.

One contained personal information about an extramarital affair and could have been used for blackmail. Another contained information about children. "I am constantly amazed at how lackadaisical major organisations and even government can be regarding this issue", said Godfrey, who is calling for regulations to established licensed PC disposal centres. ®

*Sounds odd but apparently you can get anything from working stereos to PCs from council dumps, apparently. Steptoe and Son, eat your heart out.

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