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It's Audit Time. Do You Know Where Your Private Data Is?

Where in an enterprise computing infrastructure is private data most vulnerable? Ask any vendor, analyst, or politician, and they'll probably say something about the Internet, or perhaps outsourcing or wireless networks. But ask anyone running an IT department with a large number of laptops, and you'll likely hear a different story.

While vendors, analysts, and reporters have focused on network security, a much more serious threat has been neglected--namely, physical security, and in particular stolen mobile devices.

Theft has been a problem since the first suitcase-sized portable PCs appeared two decades ago, but it's getting much worse as laptops become standard issue in many organizations. And it isn't just laptops: Exponential increases in storage density mean that data is also at risk on PDAs, cell phones, and removable media such as DVDs and USB flash drives.

Private Data

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In an IT Architect poll, readers presented with 11 choices voted on laptops and handheld devices as the place where private data is most vulnerable--ahead even of such obviously insecure systems as Internet e-mail (see "Private Data", left). That isn't just paranoia. According to the FBI and the Computer Security Institute (CSI), people are more likely to be a victim of laptop theft than any other computer crime except malware infection. At least a thousand laptops go missing in the United States every day, of which fewer than 3 percent are ever recovered. Combining police statistics with IDC's estimates of the total PC market reveals that about one in every 10 laptops will eventually be stolen.

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