2008 hasn't really started any better than 2007 finished - a laptop is stolen from the boot of a car, containing 600,000 personal data records - heaping data disaster upon data disaster. Reality says that laptops will be stolen, even when we think they are secure. I've had a laptop stolen from a hotel room, as have many friends and colleagues, and I know of friends and colleagues who've had laptops stolen from cars, or worse*
While it's wise to do everything to avoid theft (I always use a Kensington lock on my laptop in hotels now), the other important step is to minimise the impact of the loss. According to the BBC news report "Teachers put pupil data at risk", which was prompted by research by RM, teachers in nearly half of England's primary schools back up pupil data on CDs and memory sticks, which they then take out of school. The survey of 933 schools found only 1% of respondents were encrypting the data. And I'm pretty sure that you'll have the same - is there a member of the management team in your university who takes home a complete copy of your student database each night on their laptop?
The information that I wrote last October on data security is still accurate today, and contains an action plan, but here's a very quick reminder of two ends of the scale:
This is potentially quite a boring subject, but the alternative to doing nothing is that you go through quite an 'exciting' time, like HMRC.
We've been through it ourselves - to read our Trustworthy Computing web site for more about our security journey.
* Worse: One friend took his laptop into a supermarket (to avoid leaving it in his boot) and had it stolen from his trolley. Or so he thought. When the security staff at the supermarket watched the CCTV tapes, to help him find the thief, it appeared he'd walked in with an empty trolley. So where was the laptop? On the roof of his car... Before you laugh to hard, I bet you've heard of people leaving phones on the roof of their car, and driving off...
Surely http://skydrive.live.com is more secure than USB memory sticks and CDs for moving sensitive documents between work and home. Yet, I know of at least one local authority that blocks SkyDrive in favour of USB sticks.
With SkyDrive - if you mark a folder as private then it's private. I'd like to hear of students' experiences using SkyDrive.
Also, Bitlocker on Vista is a good way to help with data protection and security on lost laptops.