A SCOTTISH MP has described as “incredible” the hundreds of Ministry of Defence desk and laptop computers which have gone missing over the past three years.

Douglas Chapman, whose Dunfermline and West Fife constituency includes the Rosyth Royal Dockyard, was given the figures in answer to a parliamentary question in which he asked for the numbers of desktop, laptop and tablet computers which had been lost in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The answer came from Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood, who said: “The Ministry of Defence (MOD) treats all breaches of security very seriously and requires all breaches to be reported regardless of whether there is firm evidence of loss or just an inability to account for some devices. All incidents are subjected to an initial security risk assessment with further action taken on a proportionate basis.”

He said that in the current financial year, 30 desktop computers, 81 laptop computers and one tablet were all unaccounted for.

For the 2016-17 financial year he said the figures were 19 desktop machines, 51 laptops and five tablets.

And for the financial year 2015-16, a whopping 694 desktop computers were unaccounted for, along with 64 laptops and five tablets.

Ellwood said that 689 of the 694 desktop computers that were reported as unaccounted for were part of a single incident highlighted by an “asset management audit” and that subsequent investigations suggested that it was likely the result of an accounting error.

He said there was no evidence to suggest that any of the machines were lost or stolen.

However, Chapman said with IT security high on everyone’s agenda, the figures were astounding.

“These are incredible figures especially in these days where IT security and cybercrime are so far up the overall security agenda,” he said.

“For this to happen to what should be the most security conscious Government department is beyond belief.

“While the MoD have reported 713 desktop computers going missing over the past 3 years, they think these figures are not reliable due to an administrative glitch in record keeping.

“In addition, up to 11 tablets may also have gone AWOL.”

Chapman added: “Despite assurances from the MoD that all security measures have taken to protect information on these computers, members of the public will find these figures astounding, especially since the clear messaging from the UK Government continually say we are under cyber threat from state and non-state actors.

“Who knows the information that has been accidentally been given away or in whose expert hands some of that security information may rest.”

Although it is MOD policy that laptops, tablets and removable media are encrypted to minimise the impact if a loss were to occur, the figures show that despite the “accounting error” the number of misplaced machines is still in the hundreds.

A MOD spokesperson said: “We treat all losses seriously and encrypt all laptop and tablet computers for maximum security.

“The vast majority of these desktops were reported missing in a single incident, which was later found to be an administrative error rather than genuine loss or theft.”