‘Cavalier’ GCHQ online spy centre loses 35 laptops

GCHQ lost 35 laptops in seven months last year, potentially containing highly sensitive data.


GCHQ lost 35 laptops in one year, potentially containing highly sensitive data.

The UK’s electronic spy centre was today lambasted by MPs for having a “cavalier” attitude to data security. The centre is responsible for tracking the electronic communications of terrorists.

In a new report, the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee expressed concern that GCHQ appeared to be entirely unaware whether or not the computers, lost in 2008, contained top secret information on people posing an imminent security threat to the country.

The MPs said GCHQ’s “haphazard” monitoring system was the cause of its lack of awareness on what data was on the machines. GCHQ acknowledged “the state of the records” to the Guardian newspaper, but said there was so far no evidence the material had ended up in the wrong hands. The organisation has changed security policies to better track laptops.

GCHQ was also criticised for centring all of its main IT infrastructure in one place, in Cheltenham, meaning “vulnerabilities remain”. However, it was unable to find the funding for a new backup datacentre.

Separately, GCHQ was failing to effectively tackle state-sponsored and terrorist cyber attacks, the MPs said. In a hearing for the report, the spy centre said its work was at a level about one third below what was planned, because of difficulty attracting and retaining enough internet experts.

GCHQ is now advertising for more recruits on the London underground, the committee noted.

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