A LAPTOP computer owned by the Financial Regulator was stolen from a hotel room in Cork about three years ago, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The theft of the laptop, which was not encrypted, was reported to the gardai at the time. Although the Financial Regulator said no confidential information was on the laptop, only some of the watchdog's laptops are currently encrypted. Encryption protects information on laptops by disguising data so only authorised individuals can read it. Most of the banks overseen by the Regulator encrypt their laptops. AIB has encrypted its laptops since 1993.
A spokeswoman for the Regulator said the laptop was "one of a number of items stolen from rooms in the same hotel at that time".
"It is our policy not to store confidential data on the hard drives of laptops," said a spokeswoman for the Regulator. The stolen laptop did not contain any information, she added, because data used on the laptop was held on a separate computer disc. "There were no discs in the laptop, nor were any discs stolen," said the spokeswoman.
Any of the Regulator's laptops that have not yet been encrypted are being encrypted, said the spokeswoman. "Our smart phones, which contain confidential information, are encrypted."
Some computer experts have criticised the practice of storing confidential information on computer discs. "The British tax authorities, HM Revenue and Customs, recently lost discs containing the personal information of 25 million British citizens," said Paul Kerly, chief executive officer of the Dublin anti-fraud firm, Norkom Technologies.
Last month, the chief executive of the Financial Regulator, Pat Neary, hit out at Bank of Ireland after it emerged that four of the bank's laptops -- which had private details of about 32,000 customers -- had been stolen. Neary said his office would examine the BoI's security systems.
When contacted by this paper, AIB, Bank of Scotland, EBS Building Society, First Active, National Irish Bank, Permanent TSB, and Ulster Bank said they encrypt their laptops. BoI has pledged to encrypt all its laptops by the end of this month.