Notebook Security a Problem on College, Corporate Campuses

This fall, campus police at the University of California, Berkeley, retrieved a stolen notebook computer that contained a cache of prominent names, Social Security Numbers and other personal data. This wasn’t a trove of just a few names, though, police said. Rather, there was information on nearly 100,000 students, alumni and applicants to Cal, one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities.

There have also been thefts of notebook computers in the law library at Boston College, and a reward is being offered at Washington State University for information on a stolen computer. Personal technology from iPods to cell phones are regularly stolen from campus dorms, libraries and offices, but swiped laptops create the greatest security threat.

Major college campuses aren’t the only place where notebook PCs are being boosted — or even the most likely locale for a theft. Experts tell TechNewsWorld that laptop PCs are often stolen at work — by other professionals.

Shocking Study

“Everyone knows to guard their devices when they’re traveling, but the results we found about the office were quite shocking,” said Bob Heard, chief executive officer of Credant Technologies, a data encryption technology developer based in Dallas.

Heard’s firm conducted a poll that discovered that laptops are most commonly stolen from the office, accounting for 29 percent of all notebook disappearances globally.

Respondents to the survey indicated that their computers were stolen straight from their desks — even though many were glued or even locked in place. Nearly 90 percent of those whose notebook computers were stolen reported to Credant that they had e-mail applications containing sensitive corporate information on the computers.

“When you apply these survey results to everyday corporate life, you realize that millions of dollars and the future of these companies are at stake,” said Heard. “Even a single security breach can send stock prices plummeting.”

‘Sensitive and Confidential’

Other findings of the study of 16,700 professionals in Fortune 2000 firms included:

  • Ninety percent of those who reported a stolen laptop said that it contained “sensitive and confidential” corporate data;
  • Seventy five percent of those who reported stolen laptops said they did not have encryption on the hard drive, even though such measures are mandated by federal laws, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and state legislation in California;
  • About 10 percent of respondents said they used some kind of security to protect their laptop.

A number of security solutions — from encryption to tracking — are emerging to tackle the problem. One developer, IntelliTrack, has created a stealth signal that is described as the “lojack” of computer anti-theft devices. The software tracks stolen notebook computers through their serial port and IP address. Since most computers that are stolen are eventually used on the Internet again, the tracing device is said to be handy in recovering the stolen property.

Some companies have designed their own software which performs the same function as IntelliTrack’s — hunting down the criminals when they go online.

Encryption a Tactic

Another tactic is to use technology to encrypt all of the data stored on laptops, tablet PCs, and other mobile devices. So-called “intelligent” encryption is being used today to encrypt only the most sensitive data, a tactic that leaves more hard disk space available for business and productivity applications.

Still, once the technology has been stolen, it most likely is gone forever, at least as far as its original owner is concerned.

“Eighty two percent of all our survey respondents claim they have never recovered a stolen laptop,” said Heard. “That’s sensitive data floating out there in the wrong hands, potentially with the ability to destroy the trust of clients and topple a corporation.”

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