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Laptop Losses Total 12,000 Per Week at US Airports

Nearly 70% are never recovered; many go unreported

Companies lose a lot more laptops than they disclose, according to a report published Monday.

According to a study of 106 major U.S. airports and 800 business travelers published by the Ponemon Institute and Dell Computer, about 12,000 laptops are lost in airports each week. Only 30 percent of travelers ever recover the lost devices. Nearly half of the travelers say their laptops contain customer data or confidential business information.

The report offers a very different view from sources that collect breach disclosure information, such as Attrition.org, where only a few companies disclose laptop thefts each week. Many employees are embarrassed to report the loss of a laptop, and many companies don't report them, experts say.

"It’s staggering to learn that up to 600,000 laptops are lost in U.S. airports annually, many containing sensitive information that companies must account for," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. "IT departments must re-evaluate the steps they’re taking to protect mobile professionals, the laptops they carry, and company data stored on mobile devices."

Dell used the report to support its launch of Dell ProSupport Mobility Services, a suite of modular asset and data protection services to help companies protect laptop computers and company information, especially when the computers are lost.

The Ponemon study indicates that most airport laptop losses occur at the security checkpoints or at the departure gates, where it's easy to leave things behind. More than 70 percent of business travelers say they feel rushed when trying to get on their flights, and 69 percent said they are usually carrying too many items while trying to catch their flights.

Los Angeles's LAX reported more laptop losses than any other airport, about 1,200 per week. Most of the airports said they generally keep the laptops for some period of times, then destroy them if they are unclaimed.

Sixty-five percent of the business travelers admit that they do not take steps to protect the confidential information contained on their laptops when traveling on business, according to the study. Forty-two percent say they don't back up their data before going on a trip. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents said they have whole disk encryption or file encryption on their machines.

Interestingly, only 1 percent of the respondents admitted personally losing a laptop computer. However, 84 percent say they know someone who has lost a laptop while traveling on business.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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