Department of Health tops lost laptop rankings

The Government loses a computer a week, according to figures unearthed by the Conservative Party.

Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps wrote to ministers in six departments asking them "What (a) equipment and (b) data was lost by [their] Department in the last 12 months?"

Cumulatively, he discovered the Government has lost 53 computers and laptops over the course of 2008. He also found that 36 BlackBerries had gone missing, together with 30 mobile phones and four memory sticks. However the losses could be greater, as the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office declined to provide figures.

The Department for Health was the biggest culprit losing 14 laptops, though quite what happened to these machines we may never know as the "Department does not differentiate between stolen, missing or lost equipment."

Responding to the losses the Department said in a statement: "The Department marks its portable equipment with an invisible forensic dye called Smartwater. The Department's Security Unit continues to raise security awareness and physical protection of information technology equipment among its staff."

However, despite the losses the Department said it only recorded one data breach during the year: "This concerned the Medical Training Application Service website where personal details of some junior doctors were erroneously made available as a result of action taken by a third party managing data on the Department's behalf, contrary to the instructions on data handling issued to them by the Department."

Runner up in the lost laptops race was the Department for Children, Schools and Families which lost 13 machines, beating the Department for International Development into third place with nine losses. The departments said all the data on the machines was encrypted.

Shapps is calling for a review of the Government's data-handling policies, a call backed by analysts.

"Does the Government know what data is on these devices, and can it explain why this data has been allowed to be transferred?" said Greg Day, security analyst for McAfee. "What the Government needs to really focus on is how does it monitor and control its data."

Click here for more on the lessons we should have learned about preventing data breaches over the past year.