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A Dell-commissioned study released yesterday shows that 12,000 laptop computers are lost in airports each week. That’s a staggering number when you consider the potential cost of lost and misused corporate data. A look back at so many headlines from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to Boeing, shows that the cost can go far beyond that of the simple IT asset. The bad press alone can tarnish any company’s reputation as well.

The study’s author points out that people who lose their laptops at airports don’t even spend much time trying to get them back. Airports can have many, many different lost-and-found departments, and losing any kind of luggage at an airport is sometimes akin to shooting it into space. You are not going to get it back. (I speak from experience—having lost a bag of my most precious treasures and that year’s W2s—complete with all my family’s social security numbers when I moved across the country last year). I was traveling with multiple pets, a 20-month-old toddler, two laptops and other encumbrances that made me less focused on the bag. Yes, I was THAT passenger that day. My apologies if you were on the same flight. I almost went out the back door myself. And, the airline never found the bag and didn’t seem to try very hard either.

Dell has introduced a “poison pill” type technology to counter the risk of data loss associated with a missing notebook computer. If the laptop that has been reported lost connects to the Internet ever again, it will trigger a mechanism to delete all the data designated by the user as sensitive.

Of course, you probably want to make sure that you don’t leave your “poison pill” password lying around anywhere where it might be seen by a revenge-minded ex-spouse, spurned stalker, rejected job applicant, fired direct report or someone else you may have annoyed.

For those VARs looking to provide customers with a similar level of security for very little money, consider this: Leave the sensitive data back at the office, and make it a policy that such data never resides on laptops. When it comes to sensitive data, make sure laptops only ever act as a thin client. That’s the lesson I learned from my lost bag—don’t pack what you aren’t willing to lose. Cheap solution; solid protection.