Government loses 300 devices since 2018

More than 300 electronic devices have been lost from government departments since 2018, sparking fears that confidential data could be at risk.

A total of 316 devices have gone missing or been reported lost since 2018 by government departments including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council, the Equalities headquarters and the offices of the leaders of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, according to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by the Parliament Street think tank.

The investigation found that in 2018, 89 electronic items were reported missing, with this figure rising to 163 in 2019. In 2020, as remote working picked up pace due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a further 64 items, mainly IT or phone-related have been lost so far.

The risk posed to sensitive government data has been exacerbated in recent years by the rise in remote and device-based working. However, it has been a recognised security risk in Whitehall for decades, with memorable incidents including the theft in 1990 of a laptop containing plans for the first Gulf War. It was returned three weeks later.

A portable computer went missing in 2000 when an MI6 official visited a tapas bar. In 2007, the Government said it had lost the data of 25 million people after computer discs vanished.

And in 2017, a USB stick with details of the Queen’s security and Heathrow was found by a member of the public.

Commenting on the FOI data, Stav Pischits, CEO of cyber security firm Cynance, said: “With an increasingly remote workforce due to the Covid-19 outbreak, it’s absolutely essential that government departments take the necessary steps to ensure all devices are correctly secured.

He added: "Even though these devices were encrypted, hackers can find new ways to break through systems to access confidential files, which could be lethal in thew wrong hands. So, ensuring robust encryption and cyber security measures at all times is essential.”

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