Labour laptop theft highlights government insecurity

IT security failings highlighted by theft of laptop packed with secret information on next week's party conference

The theft of a laptop holding top secret security information on next week's Labour Party conference has shown the lack of security awareness in government.

The computer, along with details of the conference schedule and whereabouts of the Cabinet, as well as information on next month's Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth, was stolen on Wednesday from a car belonging to a senior Army officer.

Its disappearance has sparked a huge police operation to ensure that politicians don't face any added risks should the unprotected data fall into the wrong hands.

"Carrying company or organisational data outside of the office is like playing Russian roulette," says Lynton Stewart-Ashley EMEA director with security firm GuardianEdge.

"Simple hard disk encryption removes the bullets from the chamber. This whole incident has highlighted the necessity for laptop users to employ electronic data protection measures, encryption being fundamental for protecting this information."

Once encrypted, stored data is completely inaccessible, he says, protecting drives full of confidential files, such as medical records and competitor and customer data.

Greater Manchester Police say that the matter is being fully investigated. "Security arrangements for the Labour Party conference have been fully reviewed and internal procedures re-examined," said a GMP spokesman.

The spokesman said that the police are fully aware of what information was contained on the laptop, and said the information has been reviewed to see if there are any security implications for the conference.

"We would like to reassure the public that GMP's priority is to ensure that the conference and those attending it are safe and secure and we have implemented a robust policing operation to achieve this, while causing minimum disruption to the public," he added.

This is hardly the first incident of its kind, with security experts warning that cyber-thieves are targetting publically carried laptops and PDAs as the easiest way to bypass the data security measures of high profile organisations. Last year, a drunk MI6 agent had a laptop chock full of classified government data stolen as he sat in a pub.

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