With society becoming increasingly mobile, the importance of keeping your data safe has never been more in the public eye. The issue is even spreading into popular culture, what with James Bond having to combat the leaking of every MI6 agent’s details onto the internet in his latest adventure Skyfall.
Mobile phones, laptops and external hard drives are incredibly convenient, allowing us to keep track of — and carry large amounts of — important data with us while on the move. Unfortunately, the portable nature of these devices is both their unique selling point and major pitfall. Their small size means they can easily be lost or stolen during travel, putting your personal information and data at risk.
Mr Bond hasn’t been the only high-profile victim of the loss of sensitive information in recent times. In 2008, an unencrypted memory stick carrying the login details for a key government computer system was found in the car park of a pub. Another similar loss — this time of two unprotected memory sticks — in April by a South London healthcare trust resulted in the private details of more than 600 patients being lost into the public domain, with the second stick including the names and birthdays of more than 30 children.
Statistics released by the Home Office Group — an umbrella that contains departments including the Home Office, UK Border Agency and Criminal Records Bureau among others — shows that carelessness with portable devices is very much an on-going issue. Between 2005 and 2011, 224 BlackBerrys or mobile phones have been lost or stolen, with 100 laptops and 16 removable media devices also meeting the same fate. In reaction to the USB stick found in the pub car park, it has been departmental policy to encrypt all portable systems and devices carrying sensitive data since 2008.
Policies such as this are all well and good in government departments with huge budgets and IT teams primed with the expertise to recover and protect data, but what can you do with your own personal data to keep it safe?
If possible, backing up your data to a separate, static device in the home such as an external hard drive should become common practice. For example, before taking a memory stick out on your travels, following the previous step will ensure that you know exactly what the stick was holding if you happen to lose it, so you are then able to take the appropriate measures to retighten your data. It’s even possible to wipe the data of some laptops, phones and removable devices remotely, so working out if this is possible on your device is also a helpful precautionary measure if you are planning on carrying especially-sensitive information with you.
Ultimately, accidents happen, and small devices are very easy to lose when out of the comfort of your own home (or even when you’re in it!). Most individuals who find mislaid devices do not wish to do anything sinister with your data, but unfortunately there are individuals who will actively hunt down electronic goods in the hope of finding some sensitive information they can use to their advantage.
So, even if you have a similar Martini-sipping, lady-charming lifestyle to 007 himself, take the necessary steps to be proactive to potential data loss. Unfortunately the law of the land prevents us mere mortals from reacting to attacks with quite the same panache.
To win one of five copies of Skyfall, which is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 18th February, leave a comment below by 4pm Friday 22nd February, and we’ll pick the winners at random.
Updated: Congratulations to the winners Robthehungrymonkey; Jon88; Yeoldgreat1; Bikerlifestyle; Danbaker.