Travelers: Beware Your Shoulder-Surfing Seatmate

In an age when cell phones are ubiquitous and Wi-Fi access is available in airports, cafes and even taxis, business travelers routinely expose confidential information to total strangers.

Shoulder surfing (looking over someone’s shoulder at a screen or keypad) can yield a treasure trove of information, including passwords, PINs and security codes. Cameras, cell phones, recorders and simple low-tech listening devices are other effective ways for thieves to gain access to proprietary information.

Whether you’re perusing a PowerPoint presentation, updating a database or editing a sales presentation, you’re presenting competitors with a golden opportunity to mine for information. Consider these scenarios:

While having a drink in the airport bar, a fellow traveler overheard a cell phone conversation in which details of a teleconference – including the time, date, number to dial and pass code – were mentioned. He didn’t, but noted that he could have dialed in to listen.

Seated next to an executive working on a presentation for a client, her flight mate was able to snap photos of his neighbor’s computer screen using his cell phone. The executive didn’t even realize she’d been “snooped”.

Shoulder surfing is particularly effective in busy, crowded places or when people are rushed, overwhelmed or preoccupied. Conferences and trade shows are especially risky destinations. And don’t consider hotel restaurants or lobbies secure; even the local coffee bar may have snoops.

The solution: Business travelers should consider deleting sensitive information from their mobile devices before embarking on a trip.


P.S. This same rule applies to when using an ATM anywhere, or checking out at self-checkout, as well. Your information is always at risk anytime it’s out in the open. So be careful and take those extra pre-cautions to avoid any conflict of interest with your personal information; identity theft or fraud.