Table of Contents Hide
- What is Shoulder Surfing?
- When Does a Shoulder Surfing Attack Occur?
- Examples of Shoulder Surfing Attack
- What Are the Risks of Shoulder Surfing Attack?
- Steps to Avoid Shoulder Surfing Attacks
- Maintain Consistent Credit Monitoring
- Are You a Victim of Shoulder Surfing?
- Shoulder Surfing FAQs
- How common is shoulder surfing?
- What is the punishment for shoulder surfing?
- Is shoulder surfing social engineering?
If you’re concerned about identity theft or being hacked, there are some precautions you may take. These include being mindful of the websites you visit and the emails you open.
Another step that is sometimes ignored is being aware of your surroundings when entering sensitive information. This is a mistake because it exposes you to a shoulder surfing attack.
So, what precisely is shoulder surfing, and how can you avoid it?
What is Shoulder Surfing?
Shoulder surfing is the practice of gathering information through direct observation tactics such as peering over someone’s shoulder.
It is an efficient approach to getting information in crowded settings. This is because it is quite simple to stand next to someone and observe them fill out a form, enter a PIN at an ATM, or pay for anything with a credit card.
Shoulder surfing can also be done from a distance using binoculars or other vision-enhancing gear.
When Does a Shoulder Surfing Attack Occur?
A shoulder surfing attack can happen if you share personal information in a public area. This covers not only ATMs, payment kiosks, and PIN pads, but also any location where you enter personal information using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
The first shoulder surfers did not frequently loom over their victims’ shoulders to gather information. Instead, they stood a safe distance away and read people’s finger motions while they typed digits into a keypad. Similarly, today’s shoulder surfers frequently avoid detection by silently observing others in public venues such as airport lounges and shopping centers, pubs and restaurants, trains or subways, or anywhere people are out and about.
While you may feel secure shoulder surfing at the ATM because no one is directly behind you, today’s adept thieves frequently snoop from afar. They may look at your screen or keypad with high-powered binoculars, small cameras, or the camera on their own phone or tablet. They could be listening in (sometimes with strong microphones) when you read out credit card numbers or supply your Social Security number over the phone. Often, the thieves will take photos, videos, or audio recordings of the material and save them to be interpreted later.
Here are some examples of popular places where a shoulder surfing attack may occur:
#1. In a bar:
You’re waiting for your date at a crowded restaurant bar. You go on Instagram to kill time. Unfortunately, you are unaware that the person pressed against you is looking at your password, which happens to be the same password you use for your email and bank accounts.
#2. At an ATM:
You are withdrawing cash from an ATM. You feel comfortable because the man in line behind you is at least 10 feet away, staring at his phone. Actually, he’s filming your finger motions on his phone and will decipher them swiftly to get your PIN number.
#3. At the airport:
Your flight is delayed, so you take your laptop and do some online shopping in the airport lounge. You’re so ecstatic to find that the shoes you’ve been eyeing are on sale that you don’t notice the woman a few seats away peering at your screen as you enter your credit card information.
Examples of Shoulder Surfing Attack
Shoulder surfers can steal personal information in a variety of ways.
A shoulder surfing attack can occur when an employee is conversing on their phone about secret business when a coworker is sitting right next to them. That person would be able to see and take notes on their screen.
The shoulder surfer couldn’t do this if the other person was standing in front of them or sitting behind them, but because the person is sitting, the coworker can see what they’re doing on their phone.
Here are some more examples:
- Sitting in a public area and using a cellphone to pay a bill or make a purchase. If you read your bank or credit card number or other personal data aloud, an eavesdropping shoulder surfer could overhear your chat and potentially scribble down the sensitive information.
- Sitting next to someone in a coffee shop, paying a bill, or entering a password. While looking over the victim’s shoulder, someone sitting nearby could easily snoop and copy the confidential data.
- Hackers can intercept private information shared over a public wi-fi network except VPN is used.
- Filling out employee benefits information on a public work computer, where anyone passing by can view the screen. This is another example of how contact information or a social security number could be duplicated. Identity theft could occur as a result of this.
What Are the Risks of Shoulder Surfing Attack?
One example of the harm that shoulder surfers can cause is the use of your credit card information to make fraudulent purchases. The more personal information a criminal obtains about you, the more serious the repercussions for your bank account and financial health can be.
For example, if you use a debit card at an ATM that has a card skimmer installed, attackers may be able to record both your PIN and your account information and get access to your bank account. If a thief discovers your smartphone PIN and obtains your phone, they will be able to access all of the account information, credit card details, and passwords stored on it.
One or two fraudulent purchases can be readily identified and remedied by providing you with a new credit card. However, if the scam is not found early away, it could have serious long-term consequences. Shoulder surfers may also sell your personal information on the dark web.
Shoulder surfing, at worst, can expose you to identity theft. A criminal may use personal information about you, such as your Social Security number, to start new credit accounts, apply for loans, rent apartments, or apply for jobs in your name. An identity thief may obtain your tax refund, utilize your health insurance to obtain medical treatment, or apply for government benefits in your name. They may even commit a crime and reveal your personal information to authorities when questioned. They’ll leave you with a criminal record or an arrest warrant.
Identity theft can take months or years to resolve, forcing you to make several phone calls, take time off from work, and pay for services or reports required to regain your identity. The financial and emotional costs can be enormous, and your credit score may suffer as a result. A credit history marred by fraud and identity theft can make it difficult to rent an apartment, purchase a home, finance a new automobile, or even find work.
Steps to Avoid Shoulder Surfing Attacks
As can be seen, there are numerous reasons to be cautious about shoulder surfing. Following these precautions can help keep you safe from shoulder surfers.
#1. Get Physical.
When entering a password or PIN on a mobile device in public, stand or sit with your back to a wall. Shield the keys from view with your body and the other hand when using an ATM or PIN pad. If you can’t avoid giving out credit card details or other sensitive information over the phone, move away from others and speak quietly while protecting your lips with your hand. Install privacy shield screens on your PC, tablet, and smartphone. While this will not prevent thieves from eavesdropping on what you enter, it will block them from seeing which account you’re logged into.
#2. Passwords should not be reused.
According to a Harris Poll conducted last year, two-thirds of Americans admit to reusing passwords for more than one account. This can increase the likelihood of fraud if the password is compromised. If a shoulder surfer has a password you’ve used as well as your email address, they can test it on hundreds of websites and services. This could give them access to your other accounts. To avoid reusing passwords, utilize password manager programs to generate secure passwords (random strings of letters, numbers, and symbols) and securely store them. Because the password manager locks you in, you don’t have to input anything. Hence, there’s nothing for shoulder surfers to see. Just make sure your master password is well protected.
#3. Use technology to your advantage.
If someone can see you type your passwords, it makes no difference how safe they are. Use the face recognition or fingerprint logins that some apps on desktops and mobile devices provide to access your data without entering PINs or passwords. Pay without entering PINs by using contactless payment apps.
#4. Don’t use public Wi-Fi or sharing devices to access crucial accounts.
Aside from shoulder surfers, it’s never a good idea to log in to your personal accounts or shop online using public Wi-Fi or shared devices (such as laptops at the public library or tablets on display at the Apple Store). Hackers can use public Wi-Fi networks to tap into the connection and steal your data.
#5. Make use of two-factor authentication.
In addition to your password, two-factor authentication necessitates a second form of identity verification. For example, your bank may issue you a one-time log-in code that is only valid for a few minutes. Even if they have your password or PIN, they cannot access your bank account unless they enter the code. Two-factor authentication can slow down account access, but securing critical data is worth the wait.
#6. Keep an eye out for indicators of foul play.
The sooner you detect indicators of fraud or identity theft, the sooner you can take action to remedy it. Every month, go over your credit card, bank account, and other financial statements. Look for anything that appears unusual, such as a transaction with an unfamiliar company or a withdrawal from an ATM in an unfamiliar city. If you have financial or retail accounts that you rarely use, log in on a regular basis and consider erasing saved payment information.
Maintain Consistent Credit Monitoring
You may check your credit report for free by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Doing so on a regular basis can assist you in detecting potential fraud and identity theft. When you join up for free credit monitoring, you can easily keep track of your credit report. Some free credit monitoring services will notify you of any new queries or accounts, changes to your personal information, or questionable behavior on your credit report.
Consider putting a fraud alert on your credit reports if you’ve been a victim of fraud. A fraud notice (also known as a security alert) informs lenders that further procedures must be taken to verify your identification before processing applications for new credit cards or loans in your name. Placing a fraud alert with any of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—automatically places it with the others.
Shoulder surfers might compromise your personal information. Using a credit monitoring service—along with a little common sense when you’re out in public—can provide you with the confidence to “hang loose.”
Are You a Victim of Shoulder Surfing?
Shoulder surfing is a basic but efficient technique. It is predicated on the assumption that, while the ordinary person would never divulge their password to a stranger, they will readily type their password while being watched by one.
If you believe you have been a victim of shoulder surfing, take action right away. Depending on the objective of the attack, there is frequently a lag between obtaining information and using it.
Shoulder Surfing FAQs
How common is shoulder surfing?
Shoulder surfing occurs in a significant number of people, even when it is not done maliciously. According to a recent study, 73% of survey respondents said they had viewed someone else’s secret PIN without their knowledge. Shoulder surfing can occur anywhere, although it is most common at ATMs and kiosks.
What is the punishment for shoulder surfing?
Obtaining access to a person’s bank account, personal documents, or other information is considered a felony and may result in harsh penalties. These may be categorized as misdemeanors, which are punishable by criminal fines, jail time, and other penalties.
Is shoulder surfing social engineering?
Shoulder surfing is a type of social engineering. It essentially means an unauthorized third party accessing a screen as well as any confidential data displayed on an electronic device.