Shoulder Surfing

Why Trust Techopedia

What Does Shoulder Surfing Mean?

Shoulder surfing refers to the act of obtaining personal or private information through direct observation. Shoulder surfing involves looking over a person’s shoulder to gather pertinent information while the victim is oblivious. This is especially effective in crowded places where a person uses a computer, smartphone or ATM. If shoulder surfing occurs when there are very few people, the act becomes suspicious very quickly. Binoculars, video cameras and vision-enhancing devices also are used, depending on location and situation.


Techopedia Explains Shoulder Surfing

Because of our data and identity driven society, personal security keys, like username and password combinations, are critical personal and private data safeguards. Unfortunately, technical savvy is not always required for hackers to gain information. The most commonly stolen data through shoulder surfing includes credit card numbers, personal identification numbers (PIN), important personal information (like middle name and birth date used in password recovery) and usernames/passwords. This type of information may be used to login to accounts and steal other information, such as money, in the case of bank accounts.

The following are simple ways to protect yourself from shoulder surfing when entering or accessing personal data on an electronic device:

  • Look for an area where your back is against a wall.
  • Spend more for a screen filter or protector to obscure the visibility of the display.
  • Never give your password or any vital information to anyone.
  • Locate a quiet spot away from the crowd.
  • As much as possible, never open personal accounts in public.

Related Terms

Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor
Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.