What Is Shoulder Surfing? - Green Iguana Surf Camp

What Is Shoulder Surfing?

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to get away with stealing your personal information? The answer lies in shoulder surfing. This technique involves watching over someone else’s shoulder to steal their login credentials or other sensitive data.

Shoulder surfing is a common problem that affects everyone who uses public computers. In fact, according to research conducted by the Ponemon Institute, nearly half (45%) of respondents said they had experienced shoulder surfing at least once in the last year.

You should always take precautions to prevent shoulder surfing from happening to you. Here are five ways to secure your information against shoulder surfing. 

What Is Shoulder Surfing

What Is Shoulder Surfing?

Shoulder surfing is the use of direct observation techniques to steal another person’s information. It can occur when an individual watches someone enter their password into a computer or ATM. 

Shoulder surfing usually takes place in crowded places, as this is where most people tend to leave their belongings unattended. 

Public spaces also allow shoulder surfers to gather information without notice, as they will watch people enter their PINs and fill out forms. 

“Shoulder surfing,” as a term, comes from the practice of peeking over someone’s shoulder while they’re entering their username and password on a computer keyboard. 

Shoulder surfing can also be done from long distances with the aid of binoculars and other vision-enhancing devices. 

What Are Examples Of Shoulder Surfing?

Shoulder surfers can take your personal data and information using countless methods. These methods include: 

  • Looking at someone’s phone for confidential information, such as passwords, usernames and personal data. 
  • Listening to someone on the phone as they share personal information with their bank or place of business. 
  • Watching over someone’s shoulder as they enter their username and password into a computer or ATM. 
  • Using a video camera to capture images of someone entering their username and password into a website or ATM. 
  • Hacking public Wi-Fi networks to record personal information and data being shared through mobile devices. 
  • Watching over someone’s shoulder as they enter their personal information into a form or public work computer. 

Where Does Shoulder Surfing Take Place?

Shoulder surfing can happen whenever you’re sharing personal data, which is why you need to be careful in crowded or public places. 

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are often used by shoulder surfers because they offer easy access to thousands of users. They can also hack these networks to steal personal information from your phone and computer. 

Shoulder surfers spend their time around ATMs, as well as electrical outlets and PIN pads. However, they can also be found in any location where you use your computer or mobile to access personal data. 

Despite its name, the practice of shoulder surfing did not begin by looking over peoples’ shoulders. Instead, original shoulder surfers would watch from safe distances and examine finger movements to learn passwords and codes. 

These days, shoulder surfers are less noticeable and will sit in public places to observe the people around them. Because of this, airport lounges, bars and shopping malls have become popular haunts for these offenders. 

In the list below, we have outlined some common locations where shoulder surfing could take place: 


ATMs remain a popular haunt for shoulder surfers due to the ease of accessing sensitive information. 

Many ATMs now require customers to insert their PIN before allowing them to withdraw cash. This makes it easier for shoulder surfers to see your PINs and steal your money. 

Because of this, you need to be careful when entering your PIN into an ATM. You should only do so if there are no other people around.

If you must use an ATM during peak hours, try to find one that has a smaller queue and more coverage around the screen. 


Crowded bars and restaurants can be dangerous places for shoulder surfers. The reason behind this is that many people leave their phones unattended while they eat or drink. 

This means that shoulder surfers have easy access to your personal information and can easily steal your data.

You should always keep your phone close to you at all times when eating or drinking. If you’re using a bar or restaurant Wi-Fi network, make sure that you log out after finishing your meal or drinks. 


Airport terminals are another popular spot for shoulder surfers. These areas tend to be very busy with lots of people coming and going. 

As such, shoulder surfers may be able to get away with stealing your personal information without raising suspicion.

It is important to stay vigilant when in such environments. Otherwise, your personal data could be stolen before you have time to board your plane. 

So how can you prevent shoulder surfing from happening? Well, that is something that we have answered in the section below. 

5 Ways To Prevent Shoulder Surfing 

There are many ways to prevent shoulder surfing from taking place on your device. Below, we have listed five of the most effective methods. 

1. Use A Password Manager 

A password manager allows you to create strong passwords that are difficult to crack. It also helps you remember them as you type them in. 

A good example of a password manager is LastPass. With this software, you can store your usernames and passwords for various websites online. 

The benefit of using a password manager is that it stores your login details in one central location. As such, you won’t have to memorize long strings of characters each time you want to sign in. 

2. Use Facial Recognition & Fingerprint Logins 

Facial recognition and fingerprint logins allow you to enter your username and password by scanning your face or fingerprints. 

With facial recognition, you simply scan your face and your computer automatically logs you in.

With fingerprint authentication, you first scan your finger and then press a button to confirm that you are who you say you are. 

3. Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi or Shared Devices 

Public Wi-Fi hotspots and shared devices are great for browsing the internet but not for storing sensitive information like credit card details.

These networks are often unsecured which means that anyone nearby can view your data.

4. Don’t Reuse Passwords

Make sure that you don’t reuse passwords across different accounts. This makes it easier for shoulder surfers to steal your personal information. 

Instead, use unique passwords for every account. You can do this by creating random passwords that contain numbers, letters and symbols. 

5. Remain Wary Of Foul Play

Shoulder surfers will try to trick you into giving up your personal information. They might email you pretending to be someone else. Or they might even pretend to be a friend or family member. 

If you receive any suspicious emails or text messages, delete them immediately. Also, if you ever feel uncomfortable about receiving these types of communications, change your settings so that only friends and family can contact you. 


Shoulder surfing is a common problem in our modern world. However, there are ways to avoid having your personal information stolen. 

While it helps to be wary of suspicious people or transactions, you should not let the fear of shoulder surfers control your life. 

Just remain vigilant , and you should be able to avoid shoulder surfers from stealing your personal data.

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