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Perimeter

4/27/2009
02:50 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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The Real Costs Of Laptop Loss

How many movies have you seen where the bad guy is just about to get caught and interrogated when he bites down on a cyanide capsule and dies almost instantaneously? It's a pretty common scene that I've seen in movies as recent as "The Watchmen." Similar solutions, like virtual cyanide capsules, exist that can address lost or stolen electronic devices, and a study released by Intel and the Ponemon Institute last week highlights the importance of those products.

How many movies have you seen where the bad guy is just about to get caught and interrogated when he bites down on a cyanide capsule and dies almost instantaneously? It's a pretty common scene that I've seen in movies as recent as "The Watchmen." Similar solutions, like virtual cyanide capsules, exist that can address lost or stolen electronic devices, and a study released by Intel and the Ponemon Institute last week highlights the importance of those products."The Cost of a Lost Laptop" (PDF) analyzed information on missing and stolen laptop cases from 29 companies during the past 12 months. The resulting report contains some interesting information that might help sway companies' decisions when determining if whole-disk encryption, laptop recovery software, or remote destruction software is needed. Numbers like $49,346 as the averags cost of a lost laptop is certainly enough to turn some managerial heads.

The report associates seven different costs with the losses, including equipment replacement, forensics and investigations, data breach, and intellectual property, to provide a thorough picture of actual costs with lost electronics. One of the key points I found most interesting was that having a full backup of the data from the lost laptop actually increased the average cost of the lost laptop.

Why would it be more expensive when a backup exists? My first thought was it would actually be cheaper because the lost data wouldn't have to be reproduced, but the speculation is that now organizations can confirm exactly what was lost. It makes sense. If you didn't know what you lost, then your estimates are likely to be more conservative, right? The report sums it up nicely with: "In other words, it could be the ignorance is bliss hypothesis."

The area of the report that surprised me most was that encryption did not have as much of an impact on cost as I would have thought. Sure, there was nearly a $20,000 cost difference between having encryption and not having it, but why does it still average $37,443? I think the difference may be in the states where the laptop losses occurred. For example, some data breach laws do not require notification if the device was encryption.

When it's all said and done, laptop loss and theft can be quite expensive -- up to $115,849 according to the report. Employees need to be more careful with their computing devices, and companies with highly sensitive should definitely consider options to render the data unreadable if lost or stolen.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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