12,000 Laptops Lost Weekly At U.S. Airports

by Steve Dasseos on July 11, 2008

12,000 Laptops Lost Weekly At U.S. Airports

Jul 3, 2008 By David Hughes (Aviation Week)

A new study sponsored by the Dell computer company estimates that more than 12,000 laptop computers are lost or stolen each week at U.S. airports, and only 33% of those that turn up in “lost and found” are reclaimed.

The other 67% remain in the airport awhile before being disposed of, meaning there are “potentially millions of files containing sensitive or confidential data that may be accessible to a large number of airport employees and contractors,” the study issued on June 30 reports.

Ponemon Institute LLC, a for-profit research organization and consultancy that focuses on privacy issues, began the lost laptop study, and Dell later agreed to became a sponsor. However, Dell did announce a new computer security service it plans to offer to corporations on June 30, showing that it does have a dog in this fight. Ponemon does research on the trust in privacy and information security practices in the banking, retail, telecommunications and airline industries as well as in government. The chairman and founder of the Institute, Larry Ponemon, was previously global managing partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he founded the firm’s privacy practice. Researchers visited 106 airports in the U.S. and surveyed 864 business travelers.

The research numbers are believe able, according Airports Council International North America. Charles Chambers, senior vice president of security for ACI-NA, says based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation, thinks the 12,000 per week prediction is plausible. He notes that the percentage of laptops lost is small when viewed in terms of the total number of passengers traveling. Only less than one half of one percent of the roughly 3.5 million business travelers flying each week would have to lose their laptops to reach the 12,000 number, he notes.

Ponemon did field research at 106 airports in 46 states, interviewing several people at each location because missing laptops that are recovered can end up with the airport, with airlines, police or even be kept in a frequent flyer lounge until a passenger returns to claim it.

The study states that the major (Class B) airports with the biggest problems are Los Angeles International, where 1,200 laptops are lost or stolen each week, and Miami International, with 1,000. New York City airports weigh in at positions three, five and six with John F. Kennedy International having 900 laptops lost or stolen each week, Newark Liberty International 825, and LaGuardia 630. There are 36 Class B airports in the U.S. and the average loss is 286 laptops per week.

Not surprisingly, 40% of laptops are lost at security checkpoints where procedures require passengers to separate from their property during electronic screening and pat downs. The Transportation Security Administration did not reply to a request for information on how many laptops go missing each year at airport security checkpoints.

More than 53% of business travelers say their laptops contain confidential or sensitive information, but 65% of these people admit they don’t take steps to protect it. Yet the average business cost when confidential personal information is lost or stolen is $197 per record, according to another Ponemon study.

(Steve’s note: read my July 7, 2008 post to learn how to “Guard Your Laptop While Traveling“)

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