Department for Education loses almost 200 devices in two years

Laptops and mobile phones were among the devices that were lost or stolen, according to information acquired via a recent Freedom of Information request

The Department for Education (DfE) has come under fire after data acquired via a Freedom of Information (FoI) revealed that the government division has lost almost 200 devices in two years.

The gadgets which have been lost or stolen since 2019 included laptops or mobile phones, according to the inquiry submitted by Parliament Street think tank.

The DfE, headed by secretary of state for education Gavin Williamson, is primarily responsible for child protection, education, apprenticeships, and wider skills in England. Like virtually every other industry across the nation, the Department has seen a significant surge in remote working following the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns.

In light of the accelerated digital transition driven by the outbreak, last April, the DfE announced the launch of of a free online learning portal to help people develop digital skills while in lockdown – including cybersecurity and coding

Mobile phones were the most commonly misplaced device among the total 196 that were reported missing, with 145 being misplaced in the last two years. Of these, 22 were Blackberries, which were formerly the default standard issue device for government officials.

A total of 104 phones and 35 laptops were reported as lost as stolen in 2019, while a further 41 phones and 16 laptops went missing the following year.

Edward Blake, area vice president of Absolute Software, claims that the pandemic has put “huge pressure” on government departments to carry on providing critical public services while staff have been working remotely; for example, the DfE has deployed 1.29m laptops and tablets as part of an initiative to provide over 1.3m devices so that disadvantaged and vulnerable youth could access education throughout the lockdowns.

From the archive: Government department loses more than 300 devices in two years

But if one of these devices should fall into the “wrong” hands, warned Blake, the organisation in question – in this case, the DfE – could be facing a “far more costly predicament than first anticipated”.

“For example,” he explained, “sophisticated cybercriminals can steal the data of young people contained on these devices, access more business files, or intercept emails between colleagues, all with relative ease once a device has been compromised.

“For under-pressure IT teams,” added Blake, “managing and ensuring each and every device is cyber-secure and accounted for is no easy task. Therefore, it is more critical than ever to have permanent digital connection at every endpoint, as well as the ability to lock, freeze or wipe the device of it is at risk of being compromised. Young people must be able to learn remotely without rise of cyber-attack.”

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