I remember vividly two hours into the elementary algebra test during my General Certificate of Secondary Education, things didn’t seem cozy for both my neighbors. This was quite evident guided by the limited space their answers had so far covered the worksheet page. That’s a confession that I am not proud of anyway. I stole a glimpse at their work, a true measure of how adept I was at Visual hacking in my days.

But again, I have to admit it was of little value to me. The attempted questions had glaring anomalies. Desperate times call for desperate measure.

True to the last sense of the proverb, a drowning man will clutch at a straw, my buddies in the exam room were soon summoning their giraffe instincts. Literally craning their necks to have a glimpse of what I had so far jotted down in the past two hours.

It’s during such times that your intuitive power alerts you that someone is gaining an undue advantage over you. You countermeasure the threat by lowering your head blocking all avenues of light irradiating your worksheet to the extent that you can hardly see what you are writing yourself.


It’s quite unfortunate that I have carried on this behavior late into my adulthood. Though settings have changed (no longer examination) the motive of blocking unwelcoming eyes on my computer screens, or the ATM keyboard, remains the same.

Wandering Eyes that Get Glued at Sensitive Documents

The above case scenario is a rudimentary experience of visual hacking at display. You probably can relate to it or have a more intriguing experience. Jack Vale has a hilarious story here.

visual hacking

A very quick one: if a friend came and sat next to you with his monitor hanging out to dry, won’t you steal a glimpse? I probably would if it were me. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t take pride over it. It’s a mannerism that all should be ashamed off. However, no matter how hard I try to avoid it, it just happens! I can’t explain it.

For my case, I might not be a security threat, but I may chuckle at the typos and some of your Facebook postings and pictures.

The entire scenario changes if I am guided by malicious intent. Throw in password security of sensitive account settings, such as your safe account password combination, might after all, not sound so friendly at all.

Shoulder Surfing

Visual hacking or ‘shoulder surfing’ is the technical term used in the realms of data security that describes the process whereby unauthorized personnel gets to view or record classified information on either an idling monitor screen, documents placed on the table or unattended sensitive information (such as those in the photocopiers or printing tray) that ultimately is used to carry out illegal or malevolent activity.

Why You Should be Bothered by the Eyes Looking Over Your Shoulder

Visual Hacking

The gravity of the problem posed by visual hacking as reported by Ponemon Institute is astonishing. What actually makes the bad situation worse is the fact that it’s an overlooked subject by many organizations.

Coming in as the fifth overlooked low tech security breach. Fleshed out of John Adams spirited defense of the servicemen, “Facts are stubborn things.” The study by the Ponemon Institute, sponsored by 3M Company on Global Visual Hacking, undercover visual hackers (white hat hackers), reported a 91% success of visual hacks in all their study sites.

This was only a disguised study. But the figures should send chills down your spine considering how precise and swift visual hackers execute their mandate. It takes less than one quarter of an hour for a productive visual hack!

What’s At Stake with Visual hacking?

Described as a low-tech security breach, but the consequences can be devastating as pointed out by the principle investigator of Global Visual Hacking Investigation, Larry Ponemon.

Stretching from login credentials to confidential health records to financial statements – data that can fall into the path of meandering eyes is vast and the potential damage resulting from this security breach is limitless. From wiping clean your bank account to sending unsolicited e-mails to compromising system networks security a visual hack literary grants the legendary “keys to the kingdom” to the wrong hands.

What Can be Done to Tame the Shoulder Surfing?

Attempts to cover your monitor screen with your body, as I did during my earlier schooling years, will definitely yield zero returns. Vital lessons can be derived from the study commissioned by 3M global hacking research.

Some of the solutions as recommended by Ponemon will be hinged on the finding of an audit that he highly advocates for as the first step in securing your monitor and documents from straying eyes.

Visual hacking is an easy to execute task, therefore, Ponemon calls for extra environmental awareness of your work space. Question unauthorized personnel hovering around your working desk. Other measures include redesigning your office space from the open floor system to the more private traditional or cubicle offices.

3M is leading from the front in bringing to check visual hacking through its innovative 3M Privacy Filter and the latest kid on the block, e-Privacy Filter application. The 3M privacy filters serve to blur computer monitors when viewed from the sides, whereas, e-privacy software makes use of your computer webcam to monitor unfamiliar faces stealing a look at your screen.

Maintain a clean desk, deleting files from shared computer peripherals as well as the use of passwords to protect idling devices would go a long way in reducing shoulder surfing. Indeed Ponemon reports a 26% reduction of visual hacks if the aforementioned steps are fully adhered to by different organizations.

Putting Theory to Practice

Having taken you through the potential data breaches that visual hacking my take an aim at, it would be prudent for you to take measure to safeguard your personal data, as well as, the organization that you are affiliated with.

The repercussions of confidential data landing in the wrong hand can trigger an avalanche of unforeseen difficulties. With the rise in global terrorism, you won’t wish to finance terror groups unwittingly by exposing your financial or organization financial login credential.

As the adage goes, “Better safe than sorry.” Prevent costly regrets occasioned by visual hacking by implementing the multifaceted approach that entails carrying out work space audits, making use of physical barriers such as those developed by 3M, developing and reinforcing company guidelines on dealing with visual hack threats.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of 3M. The opinions and text are all mine.

Comments submitted may be displayed on other websites owned by the sponsoring brand.




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