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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 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


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

    rgs Luke


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