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Lost in Space

By Steve Jones,

Today's editorial was originally published on Sept 2, 2008. It is being re-run as Steve is traveling today and out of the office.

Well perhaps not lost in space, but according to this article, a number of US airports report over 600,000 laptops lost a year. Over 10,000 are lost each week at the 36 largest airports. That's a lot of bits floating out there in the world. There's some dispute as to these numbers in another article, so it's hard to know who's correct. I tend to think these numbers might be high.

In any case, what might be even more amazing is that 65% of these laptops are not reclaimed. What's scary is that 53% of people surveyed said confidential company information was on their laptop and 65% said no effort was taken to secure their data. I found this on Bruce Schneier's blog, and he sees it as a huge dollar loss for the country if the numbers are correct.

My wife travels quite a bit, 30-40,000 miles a year, and she's not surprised by these numbers. She guesses that the main problem is that there is no good way to match a lost laptop with a traveler. Unless you lose it at your home airport, with a lack of staff and the time it might take for something to get your lost and found, it's likely you would never be able to search for it.

And how long would you search? After how many days would you just move on and file a claim and replace the laptop? I tend to carry my important data on a USB key (and likely will upload to some service for future travel), so I'd probably spend whatever time I had in the airport, or maybe a day here in Denver, but after that I'd be ordering a replacement and moving on.

Information has a tremendous amount of value, but to many of us, the information also has a shelf life. We might move on quickly and just accept the losses as part of doing business. I understand that and agree with it for the most part.

However I think we should all have some sort of encryption and protection for our data. You never know when you might have some letter to a bank you drafted with your account information, or something else. For most thieves, I'd guess that an encrypted laptop isn't worth dealing with. They'd wipe it and move on.

Steve Jones


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