A visual hacker can infiltrate you—from the outside in. Quite literally, a person (ranging from a snoop to a cyber criminal) can peer over your shoulder while you’re using your computer or mobile (“shoulder surfing” or “visual hacking”), and collect your personal information—whatever you have up on the screen.

4DThis is so easy to observe Go to any airport or café and you’ll see scores of people using their laptops, headset on, head nodding to some beat, totally oblivious that a world exists beyond their little comfy spot.

However, shoulder surfing can also happen from a distance, e.g., a thief using binoculars or a small telescope. He can be nearby aiming his high-quality smartphone camera at the user. A cheap camera can be hidden near a spot where people often settle down with their devices, aimed right where people most often open their laptop or whip out their mobile.

You might be able to prevent shoulder snoopers by covering your screen with a hand, but this isn’t practical. If you’re working remotely, you should think about setting yourself up so that passers-by can’t see your screen, such as sitting up against a wall. However, these maneuvers aren’t always possible and you know that you need protection every single second to prevent information you are working on from a potential leak.

A recent survey of IT professionals found that 82 percent had little to zero confidence that employees were capable of concealing their device’s screen from peeping eyes; 82 percent believed it was possible that data had already been viewed off of their screens by the wrong eyes; and 85 percent reported being able to view sensitive data on a screen that they were not supposed to be looking at. So why aren’t more people – and more importantly, more organizations – taking the necessary precautions to protect their visual privacy?

From login credentials to company directories to confidential financial figures – data that can be visually hacked is vast and what a hacker can do with that information is even more limitless. To prevent people from handing over the proverbial “keys to the kingdom” through an unwanted visual hack 3M now offers its ePrivacy Filter software. When paired up with the traditional 3M Privacy Filter, which blacks out side views and helps prevents hackers from stealing a glance at your screen, the ePrivacy Filter notifies you when someone is peering over your shoulder. You can now protect your visual privacy from nearly every angle.

Not only do thieves try to see what’s on the screen, but they’ll also study the user’s fingers at key times, such as right after they open the laptop. This could be the password they’re typing in to gain access to the device. A skilled visual hacker can determine which group of keys was pressed, then confine a brute-force attack to those characters to crack the password.

If you think shoulder surfing is uncommon and more so the product of overactive imaginations, think again. Take yourself, for example. Imagine being on a long flight. You’re wide awake but drained from using your device and reading magazines. Sooner or later (and you know this), your eyes will drift towards the stranger seated next to you—to see what’s on their screen. Since you, an honest, non-criminal person, is apt to do this, imagine how tempting it is for thieves.

Research results that were released last year revealed that 72 percent of commuters in the UK peer over the shoulder of fellow commuters. But don’t think that shoulder surfing is confined to the public; it can also take place right inside your office building. This can be particularly true for offices with an open floor plan design. With more and more screens out in full view and not enough attention paid to the types of data being accessed for all to see, you can never let your guard down when it comes to protecting confidential and sensitive information.

Robert Siciliano is a Privacy Consultant to 3M discussing Identity Theft and Privacy on YouTube. Disclosures.

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