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Shoulder Surfing

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In a computer security context, shoulder surfing is a commonly used technique of stealing information simply by using observation, such as looking over someone’s shoulder. Most people are careless and ignorant of their surroundings while in public places such as Wi-Fi hotspots, airplanes and airport lounges. By observing what you are browsing, such as business plans, client details or any sensitive data, that information can easily be stolen or used against you. 

What kind of information can be stolen by shoulder surfing? 

It depends on what information you are putting on display. For example, when you are sitting in an airplane filling out the immigration card, the passenger next to you can see your name, address, passport number, date of birth and other personal information. When you are making a payment at the cash register, the person next to you might be able to see your credit card number. These days, it’s easy to snap photos while appearing to be texting or talking on the phone. 

Where does shoulder surfing happen? 

It usually happens in crowded places because it’s relatively easy to observe people: 

  • At an ATM while entering your PIN 
  • At public places, when entering your password to log into an account using a laptop or smartphone, or while you’re standing at a counter filling in a form. 
  • When browsing your social network such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in public, it would be easy to stalk you once they know your username. 
  • When you are working on confidential information or accessing private data on a laptop at a coffee shop, waiting room or airport lounge. 

How can I protect myself from shoulder surfers? 

  • Always be alert of your surroundings when handling sensitive or personal information – you don’t know who is watching you. 
  • Be concerned and conscious of sensitive data such as client details, business plans or sensitive data as this should be protected. 
  • When keying in your PIN number at the ATM, be sure to cover the keypad with your other hand. 
  • Use privacy filters on your computer screen, smartphone or tablet. 
  • Your computer screen should be positioned where no one else would be able to view it.