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Shoulder surfing a recognised problem for technology journalists.

3M Privacy Filters : 15 April, 2008  (Technical Article)
Survey of commuting journalists by 3M reveals the need for laptop privacy filters to prevent fellow passengers from reading across their shoulders.
A study of technology journalist's laptop commuting habits has revealed evidence of on-screen data exposure as a recognised security issue. The research, commissioned by diversified technology company 3M, also indicates that companies should not only be doing more to educate their remote workforce about the dangers of information shoulder surfing while travelling, but should also be looking to enforce laptop screen privacy in their security policies.

Despite being a technically aware group of travellers with sufficient knowledge to take steps to prevent on-screen data breaches happening, the survey results are somewhat surprising. Whilst most (78 per cent) admitted to shoulder surfing their fellow travellers - usually out of curiosity (44 per cent) or boredom (15 per cent) - a sizeable majority (68 per cent) said that they felt uncomfortable or vulnerable to other travellers shoulder surfing their own laptops.

"It's interesting to note that a considerable number of the UK's technology journalists - who are probably more aware of the need for privacy when working on a laptop than any other group of workers - said they would turn the screen away (55 per cent), or confront the person (13 per cent) if they encountered someone shoulder surfing their on-screen data," said Nick Hughes, business development manager with 3M's Optical Systems Division.

"This is a fascinating insight into the psyche of one of the most security-savvy groups of travelling laptop users, especially when you realise that they are fully aware of the methods available to stop members of the public shoulder surfing their information. Turning the screen away just isn't a viable long term option to combat the threat caused by shoulder surfing. As mobile working continues to increase, the risk of laptop security breaches is only likely to get higher," he continued.

According to Hughes, the fact that the technology journalists surveyed are aware of the risks of shoulder surfing is borne out by the survey results in which around 60 per cent of them said they would not work on financial or legal information on their laptop whilst commuting.

Most of the technology journalists surveyed appear to be a hard-working bunch of travellers, with 73 per cent saying they had worked on their features on their laptop during their commute, and 63 per cent saying they used their laptop to access their email accounts.

Hughes went on to say that, given the fact that the technology journalists are one of the most experienced set of laptop users when it comes to security issues, he found it amazing that only 15 per cent of those surveyed had ever come across someone using a laptop privacy filter during their commuting travels.

"The technology journalist's experiences confirms our belief that travelling laptop users still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the security risks associated with using their machines on public transport or in public places during their commute," he said.

"We hope that, by offering complimentary Vikuiti Privacy Filters to 3M stand visitors at Infosecurity Europe, the show will act as an important platform for communicating this message to IT security professionals and help establish privacy filters as an essential security tool. We will also continue to work with the business traveller market to promote mobile security best practice into next year," he added.

Please visit 3M at Infosecurity Europe 2008, Stand J128.
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