199 Problems: DCMS tightens security after theft of nearly 200 laptops

Devices worth £319k were taken from the department last year, its annual report reveals
100 Parliament Street, where DCMS is based. Photo: travelmag.com/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Jim Dunton

21 Dec 2021

The Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport has revealed that 199 laptops with a combined value of £319,000 were stolen from it in the last financial year.

Its admission came in the losses section of its 2020-21 annual report and accounts. DCMS described the theft as “store losses” from the core department and said “internal controls in this area have been strengthened and preventative measures have been put in place”. The department said there had been no loss of data related to the theft because the laptops had all been new and awaiting deployment, so did not contain any DCMS data.

On the same day the report was published, DCMS minister of state Julia Lopez answered a parliamentary question from Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney, who earlier this month asked for data on the department’s record on lost or stolen devices over the past five years.

No data was available for 2017, but Lopez's answer indicated that the 199 stolen laptops from 2020 were far and away the biggest IT loss for the department since 2018.

Her figures said 34 laptops were lost or stolen in 2018,  15 in 2019 and 17 so far in 2021.

Lopez said 57 departmental mobile phones had been lost or stolen since 2018 – the majority of which went in 2019, when 29 mobile phones were lost or stolen.

“All departmental IT has device encryption enabled,” she said. “There has been no data loss or compromise as a result of these losses.”

Lopez added: “The departmental security unit records and investigates each reported loss from the department. If appropriate, the police are invited to undertake further inquiries.

“Any mobile device reported as lost is immediately and remotely deactivated and the contents deleted. The user account on any laptop reported as lost is immediately and remotely locked.”

Civil Service World asked DCMS whether any criminal proceedings had been commenced as a result of last year’s large-scale laptop theft.

A spokesperson said: “In November 2020, the matter was referred to the Metropolitan Police for investigation. We have been informed that the matter has now been closed.”

They added that a full internal investigation was also carried out following the theft. “Security measures have since been reviewed and significantly strengthened, with laptops now stored in a secure, off-site facility,” the spokesperson said. “The theft of government equipment is taken very seriously.”

DCMS urged anyone offered the opportunity to buy a laptop registered to the department to contact it at helpdesk@dcms.gov.uk or call 0203 9206425.

This story was updated at 17:40 on 21 December 2021 to include a response from DCMS

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