People are paranoid about protecting their sensitive information from hackers, malware, and ransomware, but there's one threat they often don't think about: shoulder surfers. A nosy colleague peering at your screen in the office without permission is a pest. In a public space, screen snoopers looking at your laptop are a security risk. How can you thwart them and keep your screen private?
The first way to minimise shoulder surfing is to avoid IPS displays. IPS stands for in-plane switching, and it's a form of LED display panel technology that has vivid colours and wide viewing angles. It's great for work environments where you might want to look at your monitor together with an colleague or customer, but not for offices where you're trying to keep data private. IPS is typically the most expensive display panel type anyway. Opt for twisted nematic (TN) or vertical alignment (VA) panels instead. Laptops come with IPS and non-IPS displays; check with the vendor for specs.
Another way to narrow your viewing angle is to use a privacy screen. These cheap consumables look like the overhead transparencies used on old-school projectors, but when placed over a computer screen they lower their visibility to shoulder surfers. When buying these, ensure you get a micro-louvred one. This uses built-in filters that block the screen's image to anyone who isn't look at it head-on, and it's better than the cheaper versions that simply dim the screen across all angles.
You can also buyprivacy screens for smartphones, sticking them to the screen as a protector. You can buy these in two- or four-way privacy options that allow you to block sideways viewers in both portrait and landscape mode.
In some cases, you can even buy privacy display technology embedded directly into laptop screens. HP offers Sure View, a technology that activates a built-in privacy filter that you activate via the keyboard.
These filters aren't without their shortcomings. They generally dim a display even when viewing it head-on, and while they're good for blocking people from the side, they're less likely to stop someone seeing what you're doing from directly behind you.
That's why it's important to take extra steps to protect your screen. One of the most obvious is positioning. If you're using a laptop and you get to choose where you work, then position yourself so that no one is behind you, ideally with your back to the wall. If you can, avoid sitting next to spots where people can peer in from the side. Corners are good.
If after all this you're unable to stop a nosy parker from rubber-necking, then practice your etiquette. Even if you're afraid of confrontation, there are ways to warn people off with cutting politeness. A sharp, obvious "can I help you?" or "did you need something?" will make your message clear.
There will still come a time when you'll need to get up and leave your machine. Make a point of stopping visitors from snooping while you're away by locking your PC as a matter of course. Mac users can configure hotspots at the corner of the screen that turn on the screen saver when they move the mouse there. Windows 10 users can lock the screen by accessing the user icon in the start menu or via CTRL-ALT-DEL. There's also a backup: Windows 10 Dynamic Lock is a feature that shipped in Creators edition that lets you pair your phone with your PC and then invokes the lock screen when you walk away with your phone.
As with many security issues, protecting your screen from shoulder surfing isn't a one-product measure. The more levels of protection you use (including common sense in public spaces), the safer your display will be.
Check out the popular privacy screens below