New technology brings new risks. We used to think that data was safe behind big walls in high-security datacenters. Then came the internet. I still remember when there was an internet without firewalls. Ah, those were the days. The universities and other users were not the only ones to profit from the new technology however. So were the bad guys, hacking into computer systems, stealing data. Firewalls have contained this problem, more or less.
A New York Times editorial draws attention to a new round of problems in data protection. A couple of months ago a laptop was stolen with identity information of some 17 million veterans. Any crook with this kind of information at his hands would have a field day committing identity fraud, for example by registering credit cards in the names of these people and abusing them.
The US government estimates that the damage control cost for this incident could be more than $ 160 million, and that is just for one year of credit monitoring alone. So, one stolen laptop is worth more than $ 160 million dollars. Somebody must be very relieved that the laptop was recovered, apparently without the information having been used illegally (but how would they know?).
This is not an isolated incident. A typical medium sized company loses several laptops a year, and I have heard first hand stories of business contracts being terminated as the result of losing data in this way. It cannot be very hard to justify the business case for better data protection, yet we can expect more of this to happen real soon now.
Why didn’t we have this problem much earlier? To me, this is another example of a critical mass phenomenon. In this case it is the size of the hard disk of the notebooks that allows them to carry a full database worth. This was pretty hard just a couple of years ago. The point is that a gradual change in a certain capacity can suddenly cross a tipping point. I have elaborated on a similar example in relation to podcasting.