A study on laptop loss at airports was just released, and we don't know what is more depressing: how many laptops are "lost" at the airport, how few of the "lost" laptops have their data protected, or how few of the "lost" laptops are ever recovered. The Airport Insecurity: The Case of Lost Laptops report was conducted by the Ponemon Institute and was sponsored by Dell.
The report finds that "business travelers lose more than 12,000 laptops per week in U.S. airports." That works out to over 62,400 laptops per year. If the average business laptop costs $1,200, then roughly $749 million worth of laptops are lost each year at U.S. airports. To make matters worse, the report claims that for those laptops that are actually lost and then subsequently found in airports, only 33 percent of those found laptops are actually reunited with their owners; the other 67 percent "remain in the airport until they are disposed of."
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) had the highest rate of weekly laptop loses of U.S. airports, averaging 1,200 lost laptops per week--which means that LAX represents 10 percent of all the laptops lost at U.S. airports. Curiously, while Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is noted for being the "busiest airport in the U.S.," it was actually tied with Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) for only the eighth-highest number of lost laptops at 450 per week. It would seem, then, that the sheer volume of people traveling through an airport is not itself the determining factor here.
"The stress of rushing to catch a flight combined with the number of items business travelers typically carry (i.e. laptops, cell phones, PDAs, brief cases, luggage etc.), creates a situation that is conducive to property loss. The rate of loss may be exacerbated by checkpoint security procedures that require passengers to separate from their personal property during electronic scanning or pat downs."
The report's assessment is borne out by 70 percent of its respondents who claim to feel that they are "rushed" at the airport. Frequent travelers know that various airports and airlines differ in how they handle security and boarding. The airports and airlines where security and boarding are a more hectic experience are likely to create an atmosphere more conducive to laptop loss. And what are the two most common locations where laptops are lost? Security checkpoints and departure gates.
Well at least all the data on the lost laptops is secure, right? Think again. A whopping 65 percent of business travelers say that don't take any "steps to protect the confidential or sensitive information contained on laptop when traveling on business." Forty six percent of respondents claimed their laptops contain confidential information. That's not good if the data makes its way into a competitor's hands. Meanwhile, 47 percent of the respondents said that their laptops have "client, customer, or consumer information," and 13 percent said they had employee information on their laptops. Forget about the competitors and start worrying about identity fraud.
The report's recommendations are common sense ones, such as labeling your laptop, giving yourself more time at the airport so you don't feel rushed, and encrypting and backing up your data. LoJack for Laptops and other similar products are also other viable options for frequent travelers. The report also states that "airports need to do a better job coordinating the lost and found process, especially when it concerns the loss of a laptop computer or other data-bearing devices." We agree with this sentiment, but think it doesn't go far enough. With $749 million worth of laptops going missing every year, airports and airlines need to take a more proactive approach to avoiding the loss in the first place by creating more efficient, less harried, security and boarding procedures. That is unless the airports and airlines count "disposing" of the unclaimed found laptops as a source of income. Does American airlines have an eBay account?