Whether sitting in a cramped middle seat at the back of the plane or on a comfortable aisle in first class, you’ve undoubtedly noticed nosy neighbors staring at your laptop screen. As a matter of fact, 87 percent of mobile workers have experienced the intrusive glances of “shoulder surfers” according to a 2017 study by the Ponemon Institute. Perhaps they look out of idle curiosity or maybe it’s the natural lure of bright or colorful screens. But have you ever considered that those looky-loos could be competitors or thieves capturing sensitive information without your approval?
We all have data stored on our devices that we don’t want anyone else to see. It could be sensitive financial information, competitive R&D reports, top-secret marketing plans or legally protected emails. Companies spend millions of dollars each year on cybersecurity software, services, and hardware to prevent the theft of sensitive data. But these costly technological efforts prove useless if someone can quickly and surreptitiously snap a photo of your sensitive screen.
At minimum, shoulder surfers are annoying, but they can also lead to more serious repercussions, depending on the data they capture. For example, under new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in the European Union, a company could be fined for exposing the personal data of E.U. citizens. In the U.S., exposure of personal medical records by health care executives or physicians could be considered a violation of HIPAA regulations.
There are a few ways to prevent the low-tech threat of visual hacking. Some tips:
- Tilt your screen away from the person next to you
- Use a privacy screen on your computing devices
- Create a physical barrier between your screen and prying eyes – using a pillow, your notebook or whatever else you have at your disposal
- Stop working in crowded airplanes, trains, airports, cafes, hotel lobbies and other public spaces
- Work with your back to a wall preventing others from getting behind you and looking over your shoulder
One of the best first lines of defense against this type of data breach is a privacy screen, which helps prevent side views. Similar to the way vertical blinds work, 3M Privacy Filters use “black out” technology that darkens side views, so that the screen appears black when viewed at an angle. So, if you’re sitting in the middle seat on an airplane, in an Internet café or even working in a hotel lobby, your laptop will look like it’s off to the people on either side of you.
The filters fit directly over laptop screens and are easily removed for collaboration — when you actually want others to view your work from the side. They come in a variety of sizes to fit nearly every laptop.
If your company has numerous employees who travel frequently, consider packages you can find on Amazon, such as 3M’s Traveler 2-pack for 14” laptops or 15” Apple MacBook Pro; and the Business 5-packs for 14” laptops or 15.6” laptops.
How do YOU handle (or avoid) shoulder surfers? Please leave your comments below!
Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! This post is sponsored by 3M. We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel. Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication.
 Ponemon Institute, “Public Spaces Interview Survey,” 2017. Sponsored by 3M. Study based on responses from 46 professional mobile workers.