Study: Astounding number of laptops lost in airports

Keep laptops close at airports, because they have a startling tendency to disappear in the blink of an eye, according to a new survey.

Some of the largest and midsize U.S. airports report close to 637,000 laptops lost each year, according to the Ponemon Institute LLC survey released Monday. Laptops are most commonly lost at security checkpoints, according to the survey.

Close to 10,278 laptops are reported lost every week at 36 of the largest U.S. airports, and 65% of those laptops are not reclaimed, the survey said. Around 2,000 laptops are recorded lost at the midsize airports, and 69% are not reclaimed.

Travelers seem to lack confidence that they will recover lost laptops. About 77% of people surveyed said they had no hope of recovering a lost laptop at the airport, with 16% saying they wouldn't do anything if they lost their laptop during business travel. About 53% said that laptops contain confidential company information, with 65% taking no steps to protect the information.

Airports, along with hotels and parked cars, are places where laptops can be easily stolen, said the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on its Web site. The confusion of going through security checkpoints can make it easy for travelers to lose track of their laptops, making it "fertile ground for theft," the FTC said.

The FTC recommends people treat laptops "like cash." Like a wad of money, a laptop in public view -- like the backseat of the car or at the airport -- could attract unwanted attention. The FTC also recommends using tracking devices like Absolute Software Corp.'s LoJack, which can help track down a stolen laptop by reporting its location once it is connected to the Internet. Lenovo last week announced it would offer the LoJack option in its upcoming ThinkPad SL series laptops.

Attaching bells and whistles that sound off after detecting laptop motion could also minimize the chances of laptop theft, the FTC said.

Laptop theft is fairly prevalent in the U.S., said Mike Spinney, a spokesman for Ponemon Institute. In a study conducted by the institute, 76% of companies surveyed reported losing one or more laptops each year, of which 22% were because of theft or other criminal mischief.

Many people are ashamed of reporting lost laptops as they leave them where they shouldn't be, Spinney said.

The Ponemon survey was commissioned by Dell Inc., which on Monday announced new security services to commercial customers that include tracking and recovering lost laptops and preventing data theft.

Dell's laptop tracking service uses technology including GPS to locate and recover lost laptops. The data protection services include the ability to remotely delete data on a hard drive and services to recover data from failed hard drives.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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