January 2002

1,350 Ministry Laptops Stolen in 3 Years

Ministers are being asked to explain how hundreds of laptop computers could have been stolen from government departments.

MPs are worried about both the threat to security and the cost to the taxpayer.

The Ministry of Defence has the worst record, with nearly 600 stolen in the past five years. Defence chiefs insist there has been no security breach but concede that their staff have been warned about the risks.

The last major theft was last September when thieves broke into offices in Bedford where the ministry was holding a conference and took all its computers.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "There was no classified information on any of these laptops so we had no need to take any action over our security operations.

"It is likely that any information on our stolen laptops would be linked to the Defence Procurement Agency. It is commercially sensitive but would not compromise operational security."

Bruce George, chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, wants ministers to investigate urgently why the figures are so high.

He is also raising questions about how hackers gained access to the MoD's closely guarded computer systems. The ministry admits that hackers have gained illegal access 27 times since 1999. A spokesman emphasised that all those hackers worked for the department.

In total, 1,354 computers have gone missing from government ministries. Some were returned, but the vast majority have never been recovered.

MPs have not been told how much the thefts have cost. The Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow, who has tried to compile a list of how many computers have been stolen from each department, says the Government does not keep count.

Since 1996, the MoD has admitted losing 594 laptops. The Department for Work and Pensions has had 419 stolen, the Department for International Development 115, Trade and Industry 79, the Lord Chancellor's Department 77, the Cabinet Office 43, the Treasury 14 and the Northern Ireland Office 3.

There have been 19 illegal forays by hackers in the Lord Chancellor's Department in the past three years, five in the Foreign Office, three in the Home Office and four in the Northern Ireland Office, though again officials insist there was no breach of operational security.

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