Londoners left almost 25,000 devices such as phones, laptops and USB sticks on buses, taxis and tube trains in 2013, according to data released in a Freedom of Information request.
The loss of so many items, especially in the bring your own device era where corporate information is stored on personal devices, underlines the risks to business data.
The information showed that 24,315 devices were handed in to Transport for London (TfL) in 2013, breaking down as follows:
USB devices: 1,449
Computer hard drives and PC units: 148
Phones are most commonly left on buses (12,091), while most laptops are left on trains (352) and most tablets are left in taxis (294).
The data was released by TfL to device encryption firm ViaSat. Its CEO, Chris McIntosh, said that the actual number of losses is undoubtedly higher, as not all devices will have been found and returned to TfL.
McIntosh said that individuals and organisations need to have methods in place to deal with the consequences of lost devices containing vital data.
"The potential for fraud is huge when personal data from the average mobile can be used to access bank accounts and credit cards, imitate someone’s identity or even blackmail them," he said.
"For business devices, there is also the risk of exposing the organisation to financial penalties for failing to safeguard data, as well as damage to the organisation’s reputation."
The fact that almost 1,500 USB sticks were lost on public transport was noted as an area of concern, as such items often contain highly sensitive information and can land organisations with hefty fines if not properly encrypted.
"The fact that so many USB devices are lost on London’s transport network still comes as something of a shock, particularly as history should have made organisations and travellers well aware of the risk these devices pose," McIntosh told V3.
"Whether a USB stick containing customer details is lost on a train, or is lost in Bogota containing details of undercover DEA agents, businesses should ensure that no such device can contain sensitive data unless there are strict precautions in place."
McIntosh also noted that one silver lining is that the rise in cloud services means that less data is being stored on devices.
"More and more we’re seeing the cloud as a way to remove the risk of lost devices from the equation," he said.
"If data is only ever accessed remotely, and never actually stored on a device, a lost laptop, phone or tablet, while annoying for the individual, will be less risk to the business or its customers."
The Christmas period may seem the most likely time for device loss, as people stay out late and travel home on public transport, but the data revealed that most items are misplaced in the summer months.
For more information on mobility, visit the Intel IT Center.
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