UK government lost thousands of devices last year

(Image credit: / Monkey Business Images)

Thousands of devices belonging to UK government staff have been lost or misplaced over the last year, new figures have revealed.

Between June 2018 and June 2019, more than two thousand items, including smartphones, laptops and external storage devices, were stolen or lost by government workers across the UK, according to a freedom of information (FoI) request by Viasat.

This was equivalent to 39 devices being lost or stolen per working week – or eight per working day, during a period where the UK government was attempting to work through the challenges of delivering Brexit.


The Ministry of Defence reported the most missing devices, with 767 lost or stolen over the time period, followed by tax authority HMRC, with 288 and the Department for Business with 197.

And whilst the large majority of devices were said to be encrypted, around 200 may not have been, meaning confidential government data may have fallen into the hands of criminals.

Overall, more than 90 percent of the lost devices were said to be encrypted - however 65 mobile phones did not have such protection, with a further 115 labelled as having an "unknown" encryption status.

“This data shows us the struggle the UK is currently facing when it comes to securing data. Information assurance alongside mobile device security must be a top priority for the UK government,” said Steve Beeching, managing director of Viasat UK. 

“Despite the progress made on encrypting devices, the fact that unencrypted government devices are still being lost is concerning, suggesting more needs to be done to ensure data is protected at all times.”

Viasat also quizzed government departments on their last ICO audit in an attempt to ascertain how thoroughly different divisions were being evaluated on their policies.

Of those who responded, eight government departments reported that they were yet to be audited by the ICO. These include the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Exiting the European Union, who lost 44 and 36 devices respectively. 

Of the five departments that reported their last ICO audit, the most recent was the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which was audited in June 2017. At the opposite end of the scale, the Ministry of Defence was last audited in 2010.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.