Cyber security threat as top government officials lose 316 mobile devices

Research reveals over 300 government gadgets have been lost over the last three years, including laptops and mobile phones, potentially putting national security at risk, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request

by Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor on 13 July 2020 12:39

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Confidential data might have fallen into dangerous hands after 316 electronic devices were lost by top Government officials. The gadgets vanished from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council, the Equalities HQ and the offices of the leaders of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In 2018, 89 electronic items went missing, rising to 163 in 2019.

And despite Covid-19, a further 64 items have been lost this year, according to figures released under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation to the Parliament Street think tank.

Lost devices have been an issue in Whitehall for years. In 1990, a laptop with plans for the first Gulf War was stolen. It was returned three weeks later.

A portable computer went missing in 2000 when an MI6 official visited a tapas bar. In 2007, the Government said it had lost the data of 25 million people after computer discs vanished. And in 2017, a USB stick with details of the Queen’s security and Heathrow was found by a member of the public.

Stav Pischits, CEO of Cynance, a division of Transputec said: “With an increasingly remote workforce due to the Covid-19 outbreak, it’s absolutely essential that government departments take the necessary steps to ensure all devices are correctly secured.

Even though these devices were encrypted, hackers can find new ways to break through systems to access confidential files, which could be lethal in thew wrong hands. So, ensuring robust encryption and cyber security measures at all times is essential.”

He continued, “Hackers are those people that don’t stop at a ‘no access’ banner or get impressed by the “complexity” of security controls. For hackers there is always a way in. They will would always look for the weakest link in the chain and exploit it. If the door is closed, they will look to get through a window, or to create a new door. It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. It’s just a matter of how valuable are the objectives. As we all know, information stored on government staff’s devices is always a highly lucrative target for Hackers.”

Cyber chief Andy Harcup, VP, Absolute Software told The Commentator, “The Covid-19 outbreak has led to a sharp rise in phishing scams, with fraudsters impersonating banks in order to extract personal financial details of victims, many of whom are under extreme financial pressure. Failure to identify and block these kinds of attacks could lead to severe data breaches for businesses, particularly if the recipient of the request hands over usernames and passwords to the company account. With millions of people now working from home for the foreseeable future, often using personal phones and newly purchased laptops, the threat posed by hackers is higher than ever.

Harcup continued, “Addressing this issue requires a robust system in place to protect the end-points in use across the company network, to ensure that the latest encryption and security updates are installed and to track, freeze and wipe devices in the event of loss or theft, keeping hackers locked out.”

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