Could your laptop be worth millions?

The machine might have cost just a few thousand bucks, but the sensitive data on it could be worth much more, Symantec says.

The average laptop could contain data worth almost $1 million, according to new research.

A report released Friday by security-software company Symantec suggests that an ordinary notebook holds content valued at 550,000 pounds ($972,000), and that some could store as much as 5 million pounds--or $8.8 million--in commercially sensitive data and intellectual property.

The same research, commissioned by Symantec, shows that only 42 percent of companies automatically back up employees' e-mails, where much of this critical data is stored, and 45 percent leave it to the individual to do so.

"It's alarming that executives have mobile devices containing data of such financial value and that very little is being done to protect the information on them," said Lindsey Armstrong, a vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Symantec.

The threat of stolen laptops is a real concern. About 50 percent of respondents to an FBI computer crime survey said their organization had suffered theft of a notebook or other mobile gear in 2005. On Wednesday, investment consultancy Ameriprise Financial, an offshoot of American Express, said the theft of a company laptop had exposed sensitive data of about 230,000 customers and advisers.

The message to businesses is clear, Symantec said: Ensure all data is backed up regularly and that laptops out on the road are thoroughly secure and don't unnecessarily contain sensitive data.

"It is critical that businesses start looking beyond just the price of the hardware and recognize that they also need to invest in protecting the data stored on these machines," Armstrong said.

Past research in the U.K. suggests that as many as 10,000 laptops are left in the backs of British taxis each year and civil servants are among the worst offenders.

Will Sturgeon of Silicon.com reported from London.

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