Skip to main content

One, Two, Buckle my Shoes. How many Laptops Can We Lose.

Last summer Dell commissioned a study[1] to determine how many laptops were lost/stolen at airports. The study reported 12000 lost laptops per week at US airports. The study was reported as fact just about everywhere, including a whole bunch of high profile security related blogs.  I did some quick mental math & thought 'where do they store them all? There must be a heck of a big pile of them somewhere...'. So I bookmarked the study and thought that it'd make a good data loss related blog post someday.

In the mean time, I ran across a few other related articles, including this one[2] from the New York Times, published in 2002:

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, 330 laptops were left behind between September and April, up sharply from only 7 in the comparable period a year earlier...in the last three months, the airport collected 204 misplaced laptops. In Denver, airport officials resorted to posting signs at security checkpoints saying, ''Got laptop?'' after 95 computers were left in February alone...
...The efforts to find laptop owners have largely paid off. In Denver, for instance, all but 20 of the 600 or so laptops left behind since September have been reunited with their owners...
...At other major airports, including those in Boston, Chicago and New York, officials say the problem of misplaced laptops has barely registered...

That obviously doesn't jive with the Dell study. If you figure a large airports were finding at most a few laptops per day in the months just after 9/11, either the study is way off, or the laptop loss problem has gotten an order of magnitude worse since then.
Then I ran across this article[3] from Computerworld, published shortly after the study first hit the news. They called around a little bit, asked a few simple questions, and concluded that the study is suspect. Several real media sites[4] took the time to do the math and question the numbers (damn them journalists, always checking facts and spoiling the fun).  Some blogs also questioned the numbers[5]. One security blog modified the original post and indicated that this was not a story[6]. Many high profile[7] sites still have the original articles posted without modification.

The lesson Dell wanted us to hear? Buy our security software.
The lesson we all heard? There is an epidemic of lost laptops.

Me? I’m still trying to figure out where they pile all those lost laptops (unless, of course, the study is bogus).


[1]  Airport Insecurity: The Case of Missing & Lost Laptops, Dell
[2]  At Airport X-Ray Machines, a Mountain of Forgotten Laptops, Jeffery Selingo, New York Times
[3]  Data doesn't add up on study of missing laptops at U.S. airports Agam Shah, Computerworld
[4]  Who really believes that fliers lose 12,000 laptops a week?Sean O'Neill, Newsweek
[5]  The Airport Notebook Revolving Door, Robert Richardson, CSI
[6]  Hundreds of Thousands of Laptops Lost at U.S. Airports Annually, Bruce Schneier.
[7]U.S. Travelers Lose 12,000 Laptops Every Week Elaine Chow, Gizmodo

Comments

  1. Michael, great post and I have updated my post on the topic to point to your new information

    rgs Luke

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Cargo Cult System Administration

“imitate the superficial exterior of a process or system without having any understanding of the underlying substance” --Wikipedia During and after WWII, some native south pacific islanders erroneously associated the presence of war related technology with the delivery of highly desirable cargo. When the war ended and the cargo stopped showing up, they built crude facsimiles of runways, control towers, and airplanes in the belief that the presence of war technology caused the delivery of desirable cargo. From our point of view, it looks pretty amusing to see people build fake airplanes, runways and control towers  and wait for cargo to fall from the sky.The question is, how amusing are we?We have cargo cult science[1], cargo cult management[2], cargo cult programming[3], how about cargo cult system management?Here’s some common system administration failures that might be ‘cargo cult’:Failing to understand the difference between necessary and sufficient. A daily backup is necessary, b…

Ad-Hoc Verses Structured System Management

Structured system management is a concept that covers the fundamentals of building, securing, deploying, monitoring, logging, alerting, and documenting networks, servers and applications. Structured system management implies that you have those fundamentals in place, you execute them consistently, and you know all cases where you are inconsistent. The converse of structured system management is what I call ad hoc system management, where every system has it own plan, undocumented and inconsistent, and you don't know how inconsistent they are, because you've never looked.

In previous posts (here and here) I implied that structured system management was an integral part of improving system availability. Having inherited several platforms that had, at best, ad hoc system management, and having moved the platforms to something resembling structured system management, I've concluded that implementing basic structure around system management will be the best and fastest path to …

The Cloud – Provider Failure Modes

In The Cloud - Outsourcing Moved up the Stack[1] I compared the outsourcing that we do routinely (wide area networks) with the outsourcing of the higher layers of the application stack (processor, memory, storage). Conceptually they are similar:
In both cases you’ve entrusted your bits to someone else, you’ve shared physical and logical resources with others, you’ve disassociated physical devices (circuits or servers) from logical devices (virtual circuits, virtual severs), and in exchange for what is hopefully better, faster, cheaper service, you give up visibility, manageability and control to a provider. There are differences though. In the case of networking, your cloud provider is only entrusted with your bits for the time it takes for those bits to cross the providers network, and the loss of a few bits is not catastrophic. For providers of higher layer services, the bits are entrusted to the provider for the life of the bits, and the loss of a few bits is a major problem. The…