Businesses address laptop data theft

Increase in laptop theft sees businesses employ encryption, thin-client and other security technologies to tackle the risk to corporate data

Businesses are using encryption, thin-client and other security technologies to tackle the increasing problem of laptop theft and the associated risk to corporate data.

An exclusive investigation by ZDNet UK's sister site silicon.com earlier this month revealed a sharp rise in the number of laptops stolen in the UK, while in recent months organisations such as Marks & Spencer, the Metropolitan Police, Nationwide Building Society, Serco and Worcestershire County Council have been among those hit by laptop thefts.

Half of silicon.com's 12-strong CIO Jury IT user panel said they are using or planning to use hard-disk encryption to protect corporate data on laptops, while the other half said they use other security methods.

Ian Auger, head of IT and communications at ITN, said: "We don't encrypt but we do have technology to remotely erase the hard disk on a stolen machine."

Investment bank Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International also doesn't use encryption but does not allow any data to be stored on the laptop's hard disk.

Graham Yellowley, director of technology services at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International, said: "The laptop is password protected at boot time and all data is accessed from the servers located at our main site using Citrix as a secure interface to the data."

Others favour the encryption method. Mark Foulsham, head of IT at online insurance company esure, said: "We have a strict policy regarding laptops. We believe it is one of the devices that has to be well controlled. We have also just introduced fingerprint technology for USB devices and staff are only allowed to use memory sticks provided by the IT department."

Nick Masterson-Jones, IT director at payments body Voca, said: "It's mandatory for all our laptops to have the hard disk encrypted."

But Paul Hopkins, IT director at Newcastle University, said more needs to be done to discourage theft in the first place by improving the capability to track stolen laptops.

He said: "I would love to find a free piece of software which I could offer to put onto all university and student laptops, and smart phones, which would be able to send "stealth messages" back to a source after the laptop had been stolen. Hopefully the police would then be able to prosecute such people."