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Shoulder Surfing

Definition of Shoulder Surfing

Shoulder surfing is a term used to describe the act of spying on someone’s confidential information, such as passwords, PIN numbers, or sensitive data, by looking over their shoulder while they are typing or entering information on a device or keypad.

Origin of Shoulder Surfing

The concept of shoulder surfing has been around for as long as there have been confidential information and individuals seeking to obtain it surreptitiously. With the advent of technology, particularly the widespread use of ATMs, computers, and mobile devices, shoulder surfing has become an increasingly prevalent concern in both physical and digital environments.

Practical Application of Shoulder Surfing

One practical scenario where shoulder surfing poses a significant threat is in public places such as coffee shops, airports, or public transportation where individuals often use their laptops, smartphones, or tablets to access sensitive information such as online banking accounts or corporate emails. An attacker lurking nearby could easily observe and note down login credentials or other sensitive data without the victim even being aware of it.

Benefits of Shoulder Surfing

While shoulder surfing is often viewed in a negative light due to its potential for facilitating identity theft, fraud, or unauthorized access to personal information, it also serves as a reminder of the importance of practicing good security habits. By being aware of the possibility of shoulder surfing, individuals are encouraged to take proactive measures to protect their information, such as being vigilant about their surroundings, using privacy screens or shields on devices, and adopting strong authentication methods like two-factor authentication.


To protect yourself from shoulder surfing, avoid entering sensitive information in public places whenever possible. If you must enter confidential data in a public setting, use techniques such as shielding your screen with your body or hand, typing passwords discretely, and being aware of your surroundings.

While shoulder surfing itself may not be illegal, it can facilitate illegal activities such as identity theft or fraud. Laws regarding unauthorized access to sensitive information vary by jurisdiction, but individuals caught using shoulder surfing to obtain confidential information without permission may face legal consequences.

Yes, shoulder surfing can occur in both physical and digital environments. In digital settings, it often involves someone observing another person's screen or keyboard inputs from a distance, such as in crowded public spaces or through remote access tools. Employing privacy filters on screens and practicing good password hygiene can help mitigate the risk of digital shoulder surfing.


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