A NASA employee's laptop containing "personally identifiable information" was stolen from a locked car nearly two weeks ago, and now officials are concerned that the agency's workers are at risk of identity theft. Why the concern? Well, the laptop's hard drive wasn't encrypted, and nor were any of its sensitive documents. The theft, which was revealed to employees in an agency-wide email obtained by SpaceRef, is being spun as a wake up call for NASA to beef up its security standards on employees' laptops.
Unfortunately, NASA doesn't have an excellent track record with such matters: in March 2011 a laptop containing control codes for the International Space Station was stolen. Though the ISS thankfully wasn't in danger, it's not clear why the leak didn't spur a crackdown on machines without whole disk encryption at the agency. In fact, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin told Congress earlier this year that an estimated 48 laptops and mobile devices had been lost or stolen from April 2009 and April 2011, and, more worryingly, that only one percent of such agency devices had encryption.
"No NASA-issued laptops without whole disk encryption software... shall be removed from NASA facilities"
The hope is that this will, indeed, be the final straw for NASA. In the email sent to employees today, associate deputy administrator Richard Keegan Jr. said that a new directive, effective immediately, states that "no NASA-issued laptops containing sensitive information can be removed from a NASA facility unless whole disk encryption software is enabled." Additionally, the agency plans to have all laptops encrypted by December 21st. That won't undo the (fortunately minimal) damage that's been done, however. For those who's data was breached, the agency is offering identity theft information, assistance, and insurance.