What is Shoulder Surfing – How to Prevent It?

What is shoulder surfing? That’s what we will dig into this blog. Shoulder surfing is a social engineering trick through which someone steals confidential information from your device.

What is Shoulder Surfing

Shoulder surfing can be highly dangerous as it can lead to data theft. However, there are ways to prevent shoulder surfing. First, let’s comprehend what is shoulder surfing.

What is Shoulder Surfing – In Detail

Shoulder surfing is an identity theft trick to obtain someone’s sensitive information by spying on a person’s device.

 The main purpose behind this trick is to steal financial information, such as credit card details or account passwords.

Using this information, an attacker can access your online bank account.  He can even use your debit or credit card to make purchases.

Shoulder surfing can have severe consequences, including identity theft and data being sold on the dark web.

Examples of Shoulder Surfing 

Shoulder surfing attack often takes place in a public place. To understand how it happens, let’s look at the following scenarios.

  • Physical Device Tracking

In a crowded coffee shop, an individual discreetly stands behind someone who is using their laptop to access their bank account. They watch as the victim enters their username and password, gaining unauthorized access to their account and potentially emptying their bank accounts.

  • Snooping on your Network

If any person is using free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, or airport, hackers can intervene in their personal information shared over the public network. However, you can always use a VPN on public networks to protect your data.

  • Stealing Information from a Public Computer

Logging into your bank or other personal account using a public device results in identity theft. Anyone can easily observe your screen and copy private information, such as your contact or social security number. Later, they can use this information to log in to your bank and other private accounts.

Types of Shoulder Surfing 

There are several types of shoulder surfing that attackers may use to obtain someone’s confidential information. The most common types of Shoulder surfing are:

  • Passive Shoulder Surfing: In this type, the attacker simply observes and copies the victim’s screen from a distance without taking any active measures to interfere or engage with the victim.
  • Active Shoulder Surfing: In this type, the attacker directly interacts with the victim while attempting to obtain sensitive information. This may involve distracting the victim, engaging in conversation, or posing as someone else to gain the victim’s trust and extract information.
  • Video Shoulder Surfing: In this type, the attacker uses video recording devices, such as hidden cameras or smartphone cameras, to capture the victim’s screen from a distance. The recorded video can then be reviewed later to extract sensitive information.
  • Digital Shoulder Surfing: Digital shoulder surfing is when the attacker uses remote access tools or malware to gain unauthorized access to the victim’s screen or device and monitor their activities.
  • Team Shoulder Surfing: This is the shoulder surfing type in which the attacker works in a team with multiple members, where one member distracts the victim. In contrast, others observe and obtain sensitive information.
  • Reverse Shoulder Surfing: In Reverse shoulder surfing, the attacker positions themselves in front of the victim and watches their own reflection on a reflective surface, such as a glass door, to steal sensitive information.

How to Prevent Shoulder Surfing?

Here are some tips to prevent shoulder surfing attacks and protect your sensitive information:

  • Be aware of your surroundings: Always watch your surroundings, especially in public places where others can see your screen or physical input. Avoid entering personal information or passwords in crowded areas.
  • Use privacy screens: Consider using privacy screens or screen protectors that limit the viewing angle of your screen, making it difficult for others to see your screen from the sides or behind you. 
  • Position yourself strategically: When using a computer or a mobile device in public, try to position yourself in a way that minimizes the visibility of your screen to others.
  • Cover your input: When entering passwords, PINs, or other sensitive information, use your hand or body to shield the input from prying eyes. 
  • Avoid sharing sensitive information in public: Refrain from sharing confidential information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or other sensitive data, in public places where others can observe.
  • Be cautious of strangers: Be wary of strangers who approach you or engage you in distracting conversations while using a computer or mobile device in public. 
  • Use two-factor authentication (2FA): Enable two-factor authentication on your accounts whenever possible. The 2FA serves as an added layer of security and makes it difficult for attackers to gain unauthorized access even if they obtain your password through shoulder surfing.
  • Keep your devices locked: Lock your devices with a PIN, password, fingerprint, or other security measures to curb unauthorized logins.
  • Stay updated with security: Stay informed about the latest security updates to protect your sensitive information from various types of attacks, including shoulder surfing.

What If I Fall Victim to a Shoulder Surfing Attack?

Suppose you have fallen victim to a shoulder surfing attack or any other cyber-attack. In that case, immediately protect your information and mitigate potential harm. Here are some steps you can take:

1. Change your passwords

If your passwords may have been compromised, change them immediately for all your accounts, including email, social media, online banking, and other sensitive accounts. Use strong passwords for each account, and consider a password manager to manage your passwords securely.

2. Monitor your accounts

Regularly monitor your financial and online accounts for any doubtful activity. If any unauthorized transactions or changes are noticed, report them to the relevant financial institution or service provider immediately.

3. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)

Enable 2FA wherever possible on your accounts. This adds an extra layer of security by including an additional verification step, such as a fingerprint or SMS code, when logging in.

4. Update your software

Keep your system up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates. This helps protect against known vulnerabilities that cyber-attackers may exploit.

5. Report the Incident

If you have fallen victim to a shoulder surfing attack or any other cyber-attack, report the incident to the appropriate authorities, such as law enforcement or your organization’s IT department, for guidance and assistance.

Remember, timely action is crucial in mitigating the potential consequences of a cyber-attack. Always secure your information and seek assistance from relevant authorities or professionals.


To conclude, shoulder surfing is a cyber-attack where an attacker tries to obtain sensitive information by observing or recording someone’s activities. To prevent shoulder surfing, paying heed in public spaces, shielding your screen, using strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and keeping your software up-to-date are essential. Following these preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to shoulder surfing attacks and protect your personal information and privacy. Stay vigilant and prioritize cybersecurity best practices to safeguard your sensitive data.

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