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More than 15,000 lost mobile phones on London Underground pose security risks

12 Dec 2013

More than 15,000 mobile phones were lost on the London Underground in 2013, according to data released under a Freedom of Information request, underlining the security issues thrown up by device loss.

Security vendor McAfee got hold of the data from Transport for London (TfL) and found that in total 15,833 mobile phones were handed to its lost property department after being lefts on trains, buses and tubes. To date only 2,308 have been returned, with 13,525 still unclaimed.

Even larger sized devices are prone to being lost, with 506 misplaced tablets during the past year, up from just 17 lost tablets in 2009. So far only 290 of the 506 were reclaimed. Perhaps even more worryingly, a total of 528 laptops were handed in and 191 are yet to be claimed.

Raj Samani, security expert at McAfee, said the figures underlined the importance of ensuring adequate device security, because mobiles, tablets and laptops can go missing very easily, as the numbers proved.

“Small businesses should ensure they have the appropriate security measures in place so that even if they do misplace their tablet or smartphone after the office Christmas party, they won’t be at risk of identity theft or have their personal details compromised,” he said.

Businesses would do well to note this data as it shows that even major items such as laptops and tablets can be easily lost and that having the right encryption and device management systems in place is vital. Lost devices lacking basic security measures such as encryption is often the cause of ICO fines, which this year passed the £4m threshold.

The one consolation was that the figure of mobile loss in 2013 was down notably on 2012 when 20,906 devices were lost.

Samani also noted that the figures would hide those devices not returned to the lost property office, so the real figure of mislaid items is probably higher. "In some lucky cases, lost devices will get handed in to TfL lost property, but in many others they will get snatched by opportunistic thieves,” he said.

Theft is also a major concern in London for devices, especially smartphones, with the Mayor of London Boris Johnson working to crack down on this issue.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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