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Mobile Workers Need to Be Careful When Viewing Sensitive Data in Public

Mobile Workers Need to Be Careful When Viewing Sensitive Data in Public

December 11, 2012

With the proliferation of smartphones and laptop computers, and with companies increasingly demanding that their employees work from home and be available outside of the office, mobile workers need to be aware of the risks of viewing sensitive data on their personal devices while they are in public. Security Week reports on a new study by 3M that shows that while almost half of all people in a large survey admitted to looking at the screen of a person who was using their laptop computer or mobile phone nearby, about three quarters of people say that they have never noticed someone else looking at their own device’s screen.

There are many reasons why viewing sensitive company data in public can be risky. While on an airplane, bus, or train — or while sitting at a table at the Starbucks around the corner — employees using their laptops or phones are often in very close proximity to other people who can look over their shoulder and see what they are looking at. The spectrum of data that is viewed and worked on by company employees in public is enormous: customer information, including names and addresses, credit card numbers, dates of birth, social security numbers; corporate financial data and sales reports; current and prospective client lists; company roadmaps and outlooks; medical information; and even legal proceedings. All of this information is vulnerable when an employee views it while sitting next to other people, who could remember the information, write it down, or even use their cellphone to take a quick photograph of your screen.

The 3M study also revealed that about 70% of companies have no official guidelines in place regarding how employees work on their computers or laptops in public. One solution that can help prevent overly curious neighbors from peeking at your data is the use of a privacy filter. Privacy filters cover your screen and only allow it to be viewed while looking directly at it. When viewed from an angle, such as that of a person sitting next to you, the filter makes the screen look completely blank, with nothing visible. Privacy filters can be used on all types of screens, from laptops to phones, and diligent companies should provide the filters to any employees with access to sensitive information.

Organizations need to be aware of the risks of revealing sensitive information to competitors who might happen to be sitting nearby, and also of the danger of exposing customer data to any unscrupulous person who might want to steal a credit card number or other personal information. Unwanted leaks can severely damage a company’s reputation with customers or hurt its competitive edge. With the incredible amount of information now available to employees on their phones and laptops, all companies need to implement policies governing the viewing of corporate data in public and educate their employees on best practices to prevent any unintentional disclosures.

About the author


Kenneth C. Citarella is senior managing director for the Investigations and Cyber Forensics practice at Guidepost Solutions LLC.  He has more than 30 years of experience investigating and prosecuting white collar crime and computer crime. Kenneth can be reached at



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