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Home  /  geekspeak  /  Watch over your shoulder for ‘visual hacking’

Watch over your shoulder for ‘visual hacking’

You probably glance around before you punch your PIN into an ATM, just to be sure that no-one is trying to sneak a peek at your code. It’s a sensible security precaution, but one we often fail to take before we punch our passcode into our smartphones and log into our notebooks and online accounts.

If the thought of someone hacking into your business is just as terrifying as someone discovering your ATM code, then you need to take a little more care in public.

“Visual hacking” is the fancy new name for the age-old practice of snooping over someone’s shoulder. You’re vulnerable to it every time you walk out the front door – whether you’re meeting a colleague for coffee, networking at a trade show, catching up on paperwork at the airport or simply checking your messages on the train.

Just like withdrawing cash at the ATM, it’s worth getting into the habit of glancing over your shoulder before you enter your precious password or display sensitive information on the screen.

The person loitering behind you might not be your only security concern. In this age of ubiquitous security cameras, there’s always someone looking over your shoulder when you’re in public. Who has access to the security cameras in your favourite coffee shop? Do you think the owners are overly concerned about keeping this seemingly boring surveillance footage secure?

That might sound a bit extreme, but a healthy sense of paranoia is one of your best lines of defence against security threats to your business. You might think you’ve got nothing to hide, but what would a business rival give for a peek at your sensitive work files? This kind of thing doesn’t just happen in the movies.

One way to protect against visual hacking is to use a “privacy filter” on your notebook which cuts down the viewing angles so people can’t glance at what you’re doing from the side.

Another safety precaution is to reduce how often you punch in your codes. This is where a fingerprint reader on your smartphone, tablet or notebook can really come in handy. You might have dismissed the fingerprint reader as a novelty, but using it in public is a great way to foil people looking over your shoulder.

If your notebook doesn’t have a built-in fingerprint reader you might invest in a USB reader. You might even link it to password management software, so you can use your fingerprint to log into different online services.

Finally, it’s worth enabling two-factor authentication which is offered by a growing range of online services such as Gmail. When two-factor authentication is enabled, you need to enter both your password and a one-off security code sent to your phone as a text message. Alternatively you might use a special USB stick as your secondary form of identification.

With two-factor authentication your password alone isn’t enough to login to your account, which helps foil people who’ve been peering over your shoulder.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. A few simple security precautions might save your business from a whole lot of trouble.


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