Cybersecurity threats are not something to be taken lightly. While most computer users are familiar with common cybersecurity threats such as phishing, password attacks, and malicious software, few are aware of the dangers of visual hacking.
As the name implies, visual hacking refers to prying eyes attempting to steal your on-screen information without you ever noticing. Computer privacy screens help protect against visual hackers and keep your sensitive information confidential.
With the growing amount of data breaches and malware attacks each year, PC users, small business owners, large companies, and global enterprises alike are all strengthening their security measures to combat cybercrime.
The rate of hacker attacks is near-constant, occurring every 39 seconds on average and affecting one in three Americans every year . No one is impervious to a determined cybercriminal, especially on computers used at unsecured locations.
Here we’ll discuss the importance of computer privacy screens, what they are, how they work, and why you should invest in one to safeguard your confidential information.
A computer privacy screen, sometimes called a privacy filter, is a thin piece of plastic that’s placed over your monitor or display panel in order to prevent wandering eyes from absorbing confidential information.
You may have seen a similar device at the bank if you’ve ever tried to peek at your account balance when the teller walked away. Privacy filters use the same type of technology.
Strong passwords, anti-virus software, data encryption, and heightened awareness go a long way toward keeping your information secure, but they can’t defend against visual hacking.
Computer privacy screens protect against this serious security threat by simply adhering to your laptop screen or desktop monitor to restrict the device’s viewing angle so that only the person in front of the screen can see what’s on it.
Anyone attempting to steal a glance from the right or left will only be able to see a blank screen.
How does a computer privacy screen work?
If you’re not sure how privacy screens work, think of them as similar to vertical blinds, which can only be seen through when they are turned at a certain angle.
Computer privacy screens work the same way but on a much smaller scale, severely restricting viewing angles to the point where you essentially have to look at the screen straight on in order to see the display.
The tiny polarized blinds, sometimes known as micro louvers, make it so that the contents of your computer screen are visible to you but not the person lurking to your left or right.
The thinner the blind, the more that light can pass through for the intended user. A polarized plastic sheet uses the same technology in privacy filters as used in polarized glasses, in which an optical filter blocks out light from certain angles.
Depending on the make and model, privacy screens usually start to block visibility at around a 30-degree side angle and may appear blacked-out near a 60-degree angle.
Why do I need a computer privacy screen protector?
Many digital users worry about their online activity being monitored or spied on digitally by their boss at work, their internet provider, or even by government agencies.
Regardless of whether or not these concerns have merit, it’s important to remember that spying doesn’t have to happen digitally. The low-tech means of snooping is equally effective: watching over your shoulder.
Privacy in the workplace
Visual hacking is a very real threat. In fact, 3M recently conducted a global experiment on visual hacking and their dangerous findings were eye-opening .
Here are a few of the key takeaways from their worldwide results on the importance of visual privacy in the workplace:
1. Visual hacking is easy. In the global trials, a white hat hacker was successfully able to visually hack information 91% of the time.
2. It happens quickly. In nearly half of the trials, an undercover visual hacker was able to glean information in 15 minutes or less.
3. It goes unnoticed. The visual hacker was only stopped in 32% of global trials.
The findings from the 3M study are alarming. It takes between a few seconds and a few minutes for a passerby to glance at a computer display and glean sensitive information which could later be used for malicious purposes.
Most of the time, this security breach goes undetected. If it happens to you, you might not be aware until it's too late.
Various forms of information are vulnerable to visual hacking in both onsite and remote work environments. While you may want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, the truth is, unfortunately, that the stranger sitting to your right on a train or the custodian walking past your door should not be trusted.
It’s your responsibility to protect your company’s private information especially if you’re a small business owner, since 43% of cyber attacks are targeted at small businesses and 60% of these small companies go out of business within six months of an attack .
Multiple types of business data are at risk of visual hacking without a computer privacy screen, including things such as:
1. Trade or marketing secrets
2. Proprietary data
3. Payroll or bank statements
4. Customer or employee information
5. Privileged email correspondence
6. Contact lists
According to Juniper Research, the average cost of a data breach in 2020 will exceed $150 million . That number could be the end of a small business, especially when compared to the inexpensive cost of a computer privacy screen which may have been able to prevent a security breach in the first place.
Privacy for personal computing
Even if you don’t use your laptop or desktop for work purposes, you may still inadvertently display your own confidential personal information to a visual hacker via:
1. Online bill payments
2. Address submission forms
3. Password logins
4. Email communication
The consequences of this sensitive information getting into the wrong hands can be as mild as annoying junk mail and telemarketing calls, or as severe as life-altering identity theft.
According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll in January 2018, nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft. That’s a dramatic increase from 2017 when a mere 15 million people experienced identity theft .
With everything from tax fraud to bank fraud, phone fraud to utility fraud, identity theft is clearly on the rise. Although corporate data breaches can expose your personal information and leave you vulnerable to a cybercriminal, low-tech visual hacking is equally dangerous.
A computer privacy screen is an easy step you can take towards tightening your security measures and keeping your confidential information out of sight from prying eyes.
Cyber threats aside, sometimes PC users want privacy just for privacy’s sake. It may be in our nature to take a curious glance at the device of the person sitting next to us, but some people prefer to keep their business to themselves, even if there are no high stakes involved.
In that case, a computer privacy screen protector can prevent strangers nearby from knowing what movie you’re watching or websites you're surfing.
In addition to peace of mind against visual hacking and personal snooping, many monitor privacy screens also offer anti-glare properties to enhance your viewing experience along with protection from dust and scratches.
They are easy to apply, remove, and clean, plus most models are affordable. All things considered, investing in a privacy screen is a worthwhile consideration.
How do I find the right computer privacy screen?
Most people purchase a computer privacy screen protector as an aftermarket add-on. HP® offers an assortment of laptop and monitor privacy screens, including models made by 3M and Targus®.
Some options you may want to consider include:
1.HP 15.6-inch privacy filter - Designed for use with non-touch screens, this computer privacy screen efficiently inhibits a direct view of your screen from anyone else but you, while maintaining your screen’s crystal clarity. It also resists scratches and glare.
2.3M 13.3-inch gold privacy filter - With this 3M computer privacy screen protector, you see clearly while people on either side of you see a vivid gold screen. The filter is reversible, and the lightweight, thin, frameless design protects against dirt, debris, and scratches.
3.Targus 14-inch laptop privacy screen - This screen features tiny blinds that restrict the monitor’s viewing angle to 45-degrees from the center of the screen. It’s designed for LED filters and is easily applied with included tab guides that stick to the bezel, which may also be positioned along the sides to simply slide on and off.
How to apply a computer monitor screen
Before purchasing your filter, make sure to cross-check the dimensions to guarantee it will fit seamlessly onto your device. Be very careful when using a ruler to measure the diagonal distance across your screen, taking extra caution not to scratch your device in the process.
To avoid this risk, you can also research the specs of your laptop or desktop by looking up the manufacturer’s specifications.
Note: In addition to laptop and monitor privacy screens, you can also find filters sized to your tablet and smartphone. You never know when someone may attempt to steal your confidential information, so if you consistently use smaller devices with sensitive data in high-traffic areas, you might want to take this additional security measure.
After purchasing a privacy screen specified to the dimensions of your device, follow these tips for the best application:
2. If you’re installing a computer privacy screen with mounting tabs, separate the tabs and remove the protective film from each side. Neatly attach the tabs to the sides of the monitor, remove the protective film from the screen, and slide it into place. For screens with adhesive tape, carefully apply the adhesive along the sides of your display, remove the protective film from the screen, and apply to the adhesive tape.
3. When you need to remove or clean your privacy screen, remove it by pulling the tabs on the adhesive corners very gently. Clean it with a microfiber cloth to remove dirt and dust. Make sure the monitor is clear of debris before reapplying.
Note: The exact instructions for installation may vary by manufacturer and design. Please consult the packaging material and manufacturer before applying your computer privacy screen.
Integrated privacy screens
In today’s digital world, you can now find computers with a laptop privacy screen built in, so you would not need to purchase an additional filter to conceal your display content. With an HP Sure View integrated privacy screen, you can quickly and conveniently toggle between turning the privacy filter on and off.
It allows you to watch movies on a plane in beautiful resolution with your seatmate, then hit the F2 function button to restrict your viewing angle if you ever receive a sensitive, inbound work email mid-flight.
If you’re looking for a computer with a laptop privacy screen pre-installed, the HP EliteBook x360 is a standout choice. Modern business professionals on-the-go demand the highest security standards to protect their remote work and the HP EliteBook x360 delivers in spades.
In addition to a Full High Definition touch display with an integrated privacy filter, you’ll be protected end-to-end with extra security features, such as:
Fingerprint authentication and facial recognition for Windows™ Hello
Remember, visual hackers only scratch the surface of the list of potential cyber attacks you may fall victim to. If you practice safe online habits and remain vigilant to emerging threats, cyber criminals near or far won’t stand a chance.
Kaelee Nelson is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Kaelee is an experienced writer based in Southern California and specializes in creating informative content related to technology and digital culture.
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