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Thought Leadership | Feb 2nd, 2011

Information Security: Who’s Looking Over Your Shoulder?

Karen Barney

Have you been in an airport lately and noticed the large number of travelers using their laptops, tablets or mobile phones? While some people travel for leisure to escape always being “connected”, there are others who find it necessary to stay in touch. We’ve all encountered them: the businessman with the laptop, the real estate agent updating her contacts, and the self-centered individual that’s making reservations with a credit card over the phone.

computer privacy

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior leaves the traveler vulnerable to “shoulder surfing” techniques frequently used by identity thieves in this kind of overcrowded, and often-times chaotic, environment. Our friends at Wikipedia define shoulder surfing as: using direct observation techniques, such as looking over someone's shoulder, to get information. Shoulder surfing is particularly effective in crowded places because it is relatively easy to observe someone as they:

  • fill out a form
  • enter their PIN at an automated teller machine or a POS terminal
  • use a calling card at a public pay phone
  • enter passwords at a cybercafe, public and university libraries, or airport kiosks
  • enter a code for a rented locker in a public place such as a swimming pool or airport.

Let’s add to that the following opportunities which can also be easily exploited by a “shoulder surfer”:

  • Entering personal information on your laptop while sitting next to a stranger. Are you aware of where that stranger’s attention is being focused?
  • Entering credit card information on your hand-held tablet while the person in line next to you shoots video from his phone. Is that camera aimed in your direction?
  • Confirming your hotel reservation with credit card information while talking on your cell phone. Can your conversation be overheard?

OK, so what is a traveler to do when they find themselves in this kind of frenzied environment?

  • Find a quiet spot along the outer fringes of the waiting area.
  • Locate an area where you can sit or stand with your back to the wall.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times, not just people but also video cameras that might be taking video of your actions.
  • Invest in some type of security screen or filter to obscure the visibility of your monitor.
  • Never verbalize passwords or security codes.

The best tip, however, is to not engage in personal, business or financial matters while in this type of situation.

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