The data of around 13,000 UK dairy farmers has been lost following the theft of a laptop from DairyCo, part of the Agriculture and Horticulture development board.

The Farmers Guardian reported that the laptop contained names, addresses, quota details, transaction reference numbers and in some cases phone numbers of every DairyCo levy-payer. It was stolen when left in a car on the 9th June.

It claimed that DairyCo immediately alerted the police, but the laptop has not been retrieved. The car, which was one of several to be broken into on the day, was not parked at the DairyCo offices and it is thought the thieves were simply ‘opportunistic' rather than purposefully targeting DairyCo.

Philippa Stagg, head of communications at DairyCo, said: “The computer contained basic member data but no bank details. At the very most the data would have some commercial use for a very particular target audience but it will have limited interest to the wider world.

“The thieves were opportunistic but it is still really embarrassing for us and we are extremely sorry to our levy payers.”

Chris McIntosh, CEO of Stonewood welcomed a negative reaction from farmers to the incident as it shows that people are becoming more aware of the threats that lost data can present.

He said: “DairyCo is doing its best to reassure farmers, but they shouldn't feel they can breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The stolen laptop may not have contained deeply sensitive personal information, such as financial details, but even the smallest scraps can be of use to criminals who know what to do with them. While DairyCo had implemented a programme of removing personal information from all company laptops, in this case it was evidently too little, too late.

“Simply automatically wiping laptops isn't always the best way to go: what if that personal information was necessary for DairyCo to do its job? It might sound obvious, but companies need to strike a balance between protecting customers' data and actually being able to work effectively.

“In cases such as these, encrypting data would be the best option: data can still be used, but anyone who steals the laptop can't abuse the information stored for their own ends. If actions such as these are taken as a matter of course, then eventually fears about data security can be, if not put to rest, then at least allayed.”