The Packet Rat | In data theft stories, something is missing

The Rat

The Rat and his crew in the agency IT command bunker spend a lot of time with numbers'number of lost packets, number of trouble tickets and the like. But in a lull between software patches, the Rat sank his unforgiving fangs into numbers of a different sort.

'Apparently, keeping track of numbers isn't the forte of the Commerce Department,' the Rat grumbled to his colleagues over coffee recently. 'Given that they run the Census, you'd think they'd be all over the Line of Business for that.'

Activists have long argued that the Census Bureau doesn't count certain segments of the population properly. Well, as was recently revealed, Census (and the rest of Commerce) seems to be having the same problem with its own notebook computers. And it is that gap in accounting'the department has lost 1,137 notebook PCs since 2001'that had gotten the whiskered one's goat.

That's almost as many laptops as we've got in our whole agency,' the furry one fumed. 'It must be nice to have the Patent and Trademark Office's revenue to cover losses like that in the budget. That's like a million dollars worth of hardware!'

'At least we know they weren't all Dell laptops,' joked the Rat's help desk chief. 'Otherwise, Homeland Security would be looking for them as a weapon of mass destruction.'

'Let's see,' the cyberrodent said, his internal abacus clicking. 'That means that Commerce averaged more than four lost laptops a week, for the last five years.'

Potentially making the loss even worse, a fraction of those systems (about 200) and their accompanying portable storage devices belonged to the Census Bureau and carried personal information on an untold number of citizens.

But Commerce secretary Carlos Guiterrez says all is well, because 'all of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information,' according to his written statement.

And, as of late, the spin machine is downplaying the dangers of lost laptops and the data on them. After all, the Veterans Affairs Department recovered that notebook with data on millions of veterans after it was stolen last spring from an analyst's house'by teenage thieves who 'had no idea what they had,' as one report suggested.

And a technology magazine recently wrote about how all the recent data losses have not resulted in a rise in identity theft.

So, no worries, right?

'I mean, what's a million bucks or so in a $9 billion annual budget?' asked the help desk jockey.

'At least 25 help desk employees,' the Rat replied. 'Care to help make up the difference?'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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