The laptop, which was lost by a BP employee last month during business-related travel, was password-protected, but not encrypted. A spreadsheet on the laptop -- used for tracking claimants prior to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility being established -- contained people's names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, and social security numbers.
"The lost laptop was immediately reported to law enforcement authorities and BP security, but has not been located despite a thorough search," said Robert Wine, a press officer for BP, via email.
So far, the information appears simply to have been lost, rather than stolen. "There is no evidence that the laptop or data was targeted or that anyone's personal data has in fact been compromised or accessed in any way," he said. "Our security team continues to monitor the situation very closely and we are still in touch with authorities in an attempt to recover the laptop.
"BP takes the protection of personal information very seriously and deeply regrets the loss of the laptop," he said.
BP is sending letters to everyone who's been affected, and offering free credit monitoring services to alert people if their details are used by identity thieves.
According to a 2010 study from the Ponemon Institute, surveyed organizations lost an average of 261 laptops per year, with the lost data on each costing an average of $49,246. The study also found that any given laptop, over a three-year period, has a 5% to 10% chance of being lost or stolen, and only 5% of those missing will ever be recovered.
Hence it's surprising that so few organizations use full-disk encryption to secure laptops against loss or theft, said Paul Ducklin, head of technology in Asia Pacific for Sophos, in a blog post.
"Even if you're the sort of organization which is willing to take risks with your own data -- sales forecasts, trade secrets, and that sort of thing -- you have a clear moral duty not to take risks with data you keep about other people," he said.
"Unfortunately, in those parts of the world where encryption and mandatory disclosure are not enforced by law, many sysdamins are being squeezed by budgetary pressures to do as little as possible about encryption-related security," he said.