Missing laptops raise alarm

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am


British consular officials are staying tight-lipped over a break-in at the Stanley home of a senior diplomat, and on whether two laptops stolen in the incident contain sensitive information.

The burglary, which took place while the consular official was asleep in the home, prompted security experts - including a former British diplomat - to raise concerns about security at the homes and workplaces of foreign government officials, and the protection of sensitive information.

The owner of a home on Stanley Village Road reported a break-in last month in which two laptops and HK$20,000 cash were stolen.

It is understood it was the home of British deputy consul general Will Morgan, who has so far refused to comment.

A spokeswoman for the consulate has not responded to repeated requests to clarify details of the incident, including how it would ensure no sensitive information had been lost, if an internal investigation would take place and what extra security measures would be implemented.

Steve Vickers, chief executive officer of a security consulting firm and the former head of the Hong Kong police's criminal intelligence bureau, said the consulate's silence made it difficult to assess the potential security risks.

'The bottom line is that the general public don't know whether this was 'work equipment' or a private and personal family computer kit of no real value. However, the loss of any official electronic data is always of concern,' he said.

Personal computers were unlikely to hold sensitive data and official government computers would be encrypted to a very high level, far beyond the ability of a common criminal to crack, he said.

Vickers also said the home of a diplomat should have undergone strict security checks.

'A standard operating procedure would be to sweep the premises for unauthorised bugs [and so on],' Vickers said.

'Locks and windows should be secure and generally the private facility/estate security should be sound.'

Police said the suspect may have broken into the home through a glass door leading to the living room.

Former British diplomat Stuart Witchell, senior managing director for the global risk and investigations arm of business advisory firm FTI Consulting, said all diplomats had access to a range of work equipment such as smartphones and computers, but that those devices operated on two distinct systems.

'There's an internal system for classified documents and another for unclassified documents, which deal with very basic information,' he said.

Morgan has been in his post for 18 months and was a foreign policy adviser on China and the Far East for the British government for two and a half years before his Hong Kong posting.

The deputy consul general probably dealt with trade issues so work information would not necessarily be classified, but if a diplomat was dealing with political or military matters, the theft of work devices would be a serious matter, Witchell said.

Witchell, who spent 17 years working for the British government in Poland, Japan and Malaysia, said home security was only usually provided to diplomats in areas subject to a specific threat, such as terrorism.