UK Police in the Dock as Device Losses Soar 150%

UK police officers and staff reported on average four lost or stolen devices every day over the most recent financial year, according to newly released data.

Think tank Parliament Street received Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from 22 forces across the country to better understand their risk exposure from mobiles, tablets, laptops, radios, USBs and other devices.

In total, 2600 of these devices were reported lost or stolen over the past three financial years, with around half (1360) reported in the financial year 2018-19.

This amounts to an increase in lost/stolen devices of 150% from the 544 reported missing in 2016-17.

The worst offender was West Midlands Police, which reported 1012 missing devices over the three-year period. This included 16 laptops, 112 mobile phones and 884 police radios, 494 of which went missing last year.

There was a big drop-off before second-placed Staffordshire Police, which reported 277 lost or stolen devices, and third-placed Greater Manchester Police (225).

Those which saw the biggest increase in missing equipment between 2016 and 2019 were Gwent Police, which reported a 2500% jump, Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary (1,500%) and Durham (200%).

Absolute Software VP EMEA, Andy Harcup, argued that most of these devices would have contained sensitive data on police investigations, including confidential information about criminals, suspects and victims.

“Everyone recognizes the loss of laptops and mobiles in the line of duty is inevitable, so it’s vital that forces have the necessary systems in place to track and freeze equipment when it falls into the wrong hands,” he added.

“This approach can help improve cybersecurity standards, protect the privacy of individuals and prevent criminals and opportunistic thieves from misusing police devices and stealing data.”

It’s not just the police that are exposed to cyber-risk related to device loss. UK government workers reported over 500 lost or stolen devices over the past year, while at the Ministry of Defence, missing device reports soared 300% over the past two years.

It's unclear whether the majority of devices reported lost or stolen by the police were password protected, encrypted, and/or fitted with device wipe capabilities, according to best practices.

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