A large majority of people and businesses are at risk from visual hacking

The specter of sophisticated online hacking hangs over all of us, from individuals worried about having account details stolen to attacks on the world’s most powerful governments. Yet, strangely, we don’t seem to be paying as much attention to a less sophisticated but just as dangerous threat: visual hacking.

This is the phenomenon of another individual gaining access to sensitive information by slyly taking a look at our screens. It could happen with a sideways glance on a train or by somebody strolling through your office.

Despite the fact that an easy solution exists in the form of privacy products, many of us are not taking necessary steps to protect ourselves.

Almost all of us can remember a time when a stranger took a look at our screens without being invited to, but far fewer of us went on to stop that from happening again.

Undercover visual hacking reveals the extent of the problem

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A major study of the risks and problems surrounding visual hacking was conducted by 3M and the Ponemon Institute, with an initial investigation in the US being expanded to seven countries: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. The results were hugely concerning.

Undercover investigators going into the premises of various organizations confirmed just how easy it is to visually hack information.

Information was captured in 91 percent of trials, and 52 percent of information came from hacking exposed screens.

In many cases, multiple pieces of information were obtained, including financial information, login credentials and confidential documents.

Visual hacking in the office

Victims are often unaware of visual hacking taking place, and workers failed to challenge or even notice a hack for 68 percent of the time. This is despite the fact that contractors, visitors and even other employees present a potential risk. Open plan offices compound the problem.

Hacking over coffee

Offices are not the only places where the danger exists, of course. As this prank video shows – in which comedian Jack Vale takes a fun look at a serious problem – restaurants, cafes and airports are also ideal settings for potential hackers to exploit.

Increasingly, work is not confined to the office. Two-thirds of workers do their work on the go, doing their job on a mobile basis at least some of the time.

In the Public Spaces Survey Study, conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by 3M, 87 percent of mobile workers surveyed said they’ve caught someone looking over their shoulder at their laptop in a public space.

Three-quarters of mobile workers surveyed said they were somewhat or very concerned about visual hacking.

Nevertheless, just 50 percent of mobile workers said they were familiar with privacy protection solutions, and more than half said they took no steps to safeguard sensitive information when working in a public place.

Convenient solutions are easily available.

Any of us would be mortified to realize we have left a device on a train or left one behind in a cafe. Yet we seem less concerned about the fact that individuals in public places can get a look our information whether we are there or not.

Equally, we would never dream of loudly discussing business or personal information of a confidential nature on the phone in a public place. But we seem to have a blind spot in that we are more cautious about other people hearing our information as opposed to seeing it.

Products designed to quickly protect us from visual hacking are available from 3M here.

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

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