Cybersecurity Prevention 101: What Is Shoulder Surfing?

Cybersecurity Prevention 101 | Cybersecurity Prevention 101: What Is Shoulder Surfing? | Did you know that around 9 million Americans suffer from identity theft each year?

When protecting your identity, you must always be vigilant. It’s because some threats can exist in the most mundane places you can imagine. If you don’t know what these threats are, you’ll likely get victimized without knowing it.

Don’t panic, we’ve got your back.

With our guide, you’ll learn about shoulder surfing and how it can help keep your identity safe. That way, you’ll learn what it is and how to prevent it from happening. Read on and find out more.

What Is Shoulder Surfing?

Shoulder surfing is a type of criminal practice that aims to steal your personal data. Thieves do this by spying over your shoulder while you’re using your laptop, ATM, or other electronic devices in public. It’s a serious security risk since it can cause financial collapses.

This practice predates the digital age, meaning shoulder surfing attacks occurred way before smartphones and laptops existed. Criminals during those days observed payphone users while they entered their phone card numbers. As time passed, thieves evolved and spied on victims while they’re inputting their ATM PINs or even making store purchases.

When Does Shoulder Surfing Happen?

A shoulder surfing attack can happen whenever you’re sharing private information in public areas. It goes beyond ATMs or payment kiosks. It could happen in any place as long as you use your electronics.

Shoulder surfers never loomed over their victims’ shoulders to get information. They escape your notice by quietly observing you in places like trains and subways, bars and restaurants, or other places where people frequent.

Take note, even when no one is right behind you, you might still end up getting shoulder surfed. It’s because these thieves have powerful observation tools in their arsenal. This includes binoculars, mini-cameras, or their smartphone cameras.

These people might also eavesdrop using microphones while reading your credit card numbers or Social Security number over the phone. They also take pictures, videos, or audio of information. Later, they will attempt to interpret it.

Here are some common places where an attack can happen:


In a crowded bar, you might end up logging in to one of your social media accounts. Sometimes, you don’t realize that the person next to you is looking at your password. If you use the same password for your email and bank account, you’re compromised.


You might feel safer since the person behind you is over 10 feet away and on their phone. But in actuality, they’re using it to record your finger movements. That way, they can decipher your PIN.


You might do some online shopping to pass the time in an airport lounge. Sometimes, you’ll feel elated that your favorite items are on sale. That might lead you to ignore the person a few seats away staring at your screen while you type in your credit card information.

Shoulder Surfing Prevention

Now you know what this criminal practice is, you can now take precautions to prevent it from happening. Here are some steps that can shield you from shoulder surfers:

Get Physical

Whenever you enter a password or PIN while in public, sit with your back against a wall when you’re using a mobile device. As for ATMs or PIN pads, shield the keys from view using the bulk of your body and other hands. If you can’t share your sensitive data over the phone, remove yourself from other people’s presence and speaking quietly while covering your mouth with your hand.

You can also put privacy protector screens on your gadgets. This won’t stop shoulder surfers from spying as you type. Its benefit is that they won’t see the account you’re logging into.

Stop Reusing Passwords

With two out of three American users reusing passwords, it isn’t hard to imagine how the fraud can get out of hand. It’s because you’re multiplying your risk once that password gets compromised. Once a shoulder surfer gets your email password, they’re likely to try it with other services and websites.

This means they might gain more access to your other accounts. To avoid this use password manager apps that make secure passwords with random letters, numbers, and symbols. They will then store them securely to ensure that you need not reuse a password again.

Also, since the password manager will log in instead, you need not type anything. This means shoulder surfers will have nothing to see. The only caveat is that you must protect your primary password at all costs.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Your password security is useless if someone can see you type them in. That’s why you must start using applications that offer facial recognition or fingerprint logins. This ensures that you can access your data without inputting passwords or PINs.

Never Log in to Sensitive Accounts Using Public WiFi or Shared Devices

It’s never a great idea to use public WiFi or shared devices to access your accounts and shop online. It goes beyond the problem of shoulder surfers. It’s because public WiFi networks are more vulnerable to hackers that tap into the connection and take your data.

Speaking of WiFi connections, you must also learn how to protect your home network from possible hacker incursions. You can check out for more information.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

This security feature requires a second method of verifying your identity to complement your password. For example, your bank could send a one-time code whenever you log in. The best part is that it’s only valid for a few minutes.

This means that thieves with your passwords or PINs can’t use your bank account without the one-time code.

Stop Shoulder Surfing Today

These are some of the things you must know about shoulder surfing. Always remember that awareness is the key to a successful defense strategy. With this, you can avoid becoming a victim of this crime, regardless of where you are.

Did you find this guide useful and are looking for more tech or lifestyle guides? We’ve got you covered. Don’t hesitate to keep reading more of our in-depth guides right here, today.