Government rural agencies face cyber security risk after losing 540 devices

Cyber risk for UK's rural departments as over 500 mobiles, laptops and tablet computers have been reported missing over the last three financial years.

Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor
On 16 September 2019 09:10

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Environment Agency have misplaced a total of 540 laptops, mobile phones and tablet computers over the last three financial years (FYs), according to official data.

The data, obtained from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, reveal that in total DEFRA lost or misplaced 100 of these valuable devices, whereas the Environment Agency reported a total of 440 of the lost devices.

Of these figures, mobile phone losses were ranked the highest, with the Environment Agency losing 363 and DEFRA losing 63. Laptops were the second most lost device with 59 reported lost by the Environment Agency and 35 from DEFRA, and 21 tablet computers were lost in total – 3 from DEFRA and 18 from the Environment Agency.

However, only DEFRA recorded an increase of lost devices over the three FYs, having lost just 28 in 2016-17 compared to 40 in 2018-19 – an increase of 43 per cent.

The Environment Agency saw a decrease of 24 per cent over the 3 FYs. A spokesman for the Environment Agency issued the following statement: “We employ over 10,000 staff across the country.

Due to the nature of our work, we have operational staff working in the field to protect the environment and support our incident response capabilities. Because of this there is always a risk that exposure to threats concerning mobile technology will be increased. All staff are required to work in accordance with our IT and security policies so that we continue to work toward minimising losses, and risk associated with losses.”

Andy Harcup, VP, Absolute Software said: “With government departments ploughing money into cyber security systems, it’s unbelievable that so many phones and laptops are going missing. Every single lost device is a potential goldmine of confidential information and should be properly secured so that if stolen it can be tracked, frozen and recovered.

Harcup continued, "It’s also critical that government agencies have capabilities in place so that when mobile devices are exposed to threats outside of their control, they are able to locate the devices whether they are on or off the network, and wipe the data on the devices in order to comply with critical regulations like GDPR.”

The news comes following the recent appointment by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Theresa Villiers as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 

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