Laptop Security: One School Learns a Hard Lesson

The Freehold Community School, located in the British city of Oldham, made news around the world recently, but not by choice. The school renowned for academic achievement earned a failing grade in data security, after the personal data of 90 students was obtained from a stolen laptop computer.

The laptop, taken from the car of one of the teachers, did not have any encryption software installed, just like all the other computers used by the school’s faculty. Joyce Willetts, the head of Freehold Community School, promised that in future all laptops would be encrypted.

But as in countless cases of data theft around the world, changes made after the fact are changes made too late. How many schools, companies, hospitals and other organizations still haven’t made an effort to secure the personal and professional data on their laptops and desktop computers?

The Data Protection Act was passed in England to help prevent incidents like the one at Freehold Community School. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), charged with enforcing the Act, has been under fire in England for not coming down harder on organizations that fail to protect their data. In fact, the ICO has issued fines to only four organizations for data breaches, out of more than 2,500 incidents reported in one year.

Of course, a fine just adds to the myriad of problems caused by any compromised data stored on a laptop. All of which can be avoided by data encryption software and a few additional common sense steps, from antivirus software to thinking first before opening a message from an unknown sender. A healthy measure of precaution is far more valuable than a cure that is administered too late.

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