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By | John Leyden 17th January 2008 16:04

Boro council in child data theft flap

Nine nicked laptops hanging on the wall

A break-in at Middlesbrough Council has resulted in the loss of nine laptops containing sensitive case files on up to 63 vulnerable children.

The laptops, used by social workers to keep case records about vulnerable kids and their families, were password protected and protected by "some encryption", the BBC reports.

Nonetheless, the council has taken the precaution of advising the individuals most at risk from the breach, the result of a break-in at the council's teaching and learning centre on 6 January. It has also vowed to revamp its security practices.

Security experts reckon that, even though it's unlikely that the data will fall into the wrong hands, Middlesbrough Council has laid itself open to criticism by following an "ad hoc" approach to IT security.

"While this theft may have been entirely opportunistic, with the laptops already sold on, Middlesbrough Council now has to publicly justify itself because there's still the risk that the sensitive data they contain could fall into the wrong hands," said Jamie Cowper, director of marketing EMEA at PGP.

"Although some attempt has been made to protect the data, the fact that they can't say for sure exactly how strong that protection is will hardly inspire confidence in the parents of the children affected," he added.

The theft of the laptops in early January followed a similar theft of one laptop, containing the names and addresses of council service users, last year. Burglars, frequently junkies looking for an easy score, often return to the scene of their crimes. The council's failure to beef up security in these circumstances looks careless, at least with the benefit of retrospect. Cleveland police are investigating both incidents. ®

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