In the past six months a disturbing trend has emerged involving the theft of laptops containing sensitive personal information -- most recently from the home of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data analyst.
These inevitably involve the loss of names, addresses, Social Security numbers and often credit card or investment account numbers of thousands of people. The VA case involved all veterans who retired from active duty in the last 40 years.
At the March FOSE '06 conference on computing in government, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers told an increasingly familiar story about getting a letter from his financial advisers warning that his personal information may have been stolen along with someone's laptop. "What do I do now?" he quipped, "Change my name?"
These losses are embarrassing and costly, and they may be only the tip of an oncoming iceberg, as corporations increasingly equip their outside sales and support people and traveling executives with mobile "gadgets" -- smart phones and other handhelds -- that not only access corporate e-mail but carry copies of databases on corporate clients, R&D, financials and strategy.
These devices are very vulnerable to both accidental loss and theft, said Jack Gold, founder and president of J.Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass., and a former analyst at Meta Group. "My expectation is that we will see at least one major theft of a smart phone or PDA exposing sensitive corporate data within the next two years."