Users must guard against shoulder surfing

People are no longer looking over your shoulder just to be nosey, they could also be doing it to get a glimpse at your corporate data warns 3M.

Users of laptops and smartphones in public places need to be more aware of the risk of being 'shoulder surfed' by strangers spying on their private business communications, suggests new research.

Technology company 3M has just released a survey which it says shows that 80 per cent of British people admit to having read over a stranger's shoulder whilst on public transport, in coffee shops and in shared work places.

As well as harmlessly sneaking a look at books and newspapers, there's evidence of a new kind of shoulder surfer, says 3M, who is keeping a

particular eye open for confidential data.

Some 56 per cent of those who admitted to shoulder surfing are attracted to their neighbour's laptop, says Nick Hughes, business development manager at 3M.

"Reasons why laptops have proven so attractive is the promise of seeing business mail and corporate documents, posing a genuine threat to businesses wanting to protect sensitive information from laptop voyeurs," said Hughes.

Seventy per cent of laptop users surveyed commented that being spied on made working remotely an uncomfortable experience, the research found.

"An inquisitive demeanour is human nature," said Hughes. "Reading over someone's shoulder may not be done for any malicious reasons but it happens nonetheless. Today 65 per cent of UK business do not offer a comprehensive security policy that combats the issues of shoulder surfing."

Mike Hydra, founder of 2Fast4Wireless, a consultancy dedicated to wireless and mobile issues, agrees that technology users are not being nearly careful enough in public. He does however believe that technology professionals and company security managers are becoming more alert to the risks that mobile users are taking with their employers' data.

"I believe this problem is starting to be taken care of by the IT manager of the corporate," he told IT Pro.

"And that's probably just as well. Everyone knows that most business laptops will have something sensitive on them."