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Nasa laptop containing sensitive data stolen

15 Nov 2012
Nasa International Space Station

Nasa has lost a laptop full of sensitive information, placing thousands of the space agency's employees and contractors at risk, according to reports.

The laptop was stolen from a Nasa worker's car and contains a slew of personal information, including employees' social security numbers, according to Reuters.

The theft is doubly dangerous as the information stored on the laptop is not encrypted, meaning the thief could easily access it.

Personal and financial information is a high value item on many cyber black markets, as it allows crooks to craft more complex and effective attacks.

Reuters reported that Nasa has already alerted its employees of the loss via a mass email.

"Information on the laptop could be accessible to unauthorised individuals," Nasa associate deputy administrator, Richard Keegan, was reported to have said.

"Because of the amount of information that must be reviewed and validated, it may take up to 60 days for all individuals impacted by this breach to be identified and contacted."

At the time of publishing Nasa had not responded to V3's request for comment on the theft, though Nasa has reportedly already begun investigating the loss by hiring several ID experts and data breach specialists.

The incident follows widespread reports of US government agencies failing to implement even basic cyber best practice policies to protect sensitive data.

Most recently staff at the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were reported to have put sensitive information from a number of stock exchanges at risk after using unencrypted computers for work purposes

The slew of reports has led experts in the security industry to call on US government agencies and businesses to take cyber security more seriously.

"By its own admission, only one percent of Nasa laptops and portable devices were encrypted as at February 2012, compared with a US government-wide encryption rate of 54 percent," said UK managing director for Check Point, Terry Greer-King.

"There's still a long way to go before the data held on government and corporate laptops is truly secure."

Vice president at Voltage Security, Mark Bower, added that encrypting information stored on a laptop was on the first of many measures businesses and governments need to take.

"CIOs need to remember that just encrypting a laptop solves only a fraction of data breach risk," said Bower.

"Data moves to and from laptops in emails, files, and as data to and from applications and servers. So while encrypting a laptop might be a first reaction, with attackers going after data in flight and the risk of accidental breach through multiple channels

"Wherever there's a security gap with data in the clear, it's vulnerable to compromise. It's important for CIOs to consider new and more effective ways of preventing breaches - for example, data-centric security."

The importance of encryption was also highlighted by the fact fines in the UK levied against public sector organisations for data breaches has passed £2m.

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Alastair Stevenson

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

View Alastair's Google+ profile

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