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SEC could be missing hundreds of laptops, inspector warns

October 9, 2014, 3:30 PM UTC
contract armin harris
Kyle Bean for Fortune

The inspector-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission has estimated that as many as 202 of the agency’s laptops may be unaccounted for, which could put some sensitive, nonpublic information at risk of release.

In a report that was issued last month, but is only now gaining some media attention, the SEC’s Office of Inspector General said it reviewed a statistical sample of 488 laptops assigned to the agency’s headquarters and three regional offices to determine laptop accountability. Of those devices, 24 laptops couldn’t be accounted for, while incorrect user information was listed for about 22% of the laptops and incorrect location information was found for 17% of the sample size.

“Because of their portability, ease of concealment, and the sensitivity of the information they often contain, laptop computers are at risk of loss and theft and must be properly safeguarded and accounted for,” the report said.

SEC employees and contractors use laptops — some of them store nonpublic information — in their offices, at alternate work locations, and while on office travel. The SEC has 5,525 laptops in total, with about half of those at the agency’s headquarters in D.C.

Inspector General Carl Hoecker, in a memo that was attached to the report, requested that the agency come up with a plan to strengthen the SEC’s inventory controls over its laptop computers. The office has made several recommendations to improve laptop accountability, including an update to the SEC’s inventory system and ensuring a computer security response center has the ability to search for and track unaccounted-for laptops.