The biggest security threat is right in front of your eyes

With all the focus on the security threat posed by malicious hackers, it's easy to forget about the other vulnerabilities that threaten the integrity of corporate data – particularly amongst companies that are caught up in the rollout of mobile technologies to enable their employees to work effectively from wherever they are.

Those technologies offer inarguable business value in terms of productivity, but they also open up new security risks: even the most heavily encrypted data can be compromised with something as simple as a glance.

It can be easy for mobile workers, working on their laptop while travelling on a train or bus, to not notice a fellow train passenger looking sideways at the sensitive corporate data the employee is working with.

Even making a phone call can become a security breach if the private home or mobile number of a key executive is displayed onscreen for anyone in the area to see. A working screen can be surreptitiously photographed by a fellow passenger, completely unknown to the mobile worker.

This risk isn't limited to planes, trains and buses: with open-plan offices the de facto standard for work environments, it's hard for workers to keep track of who is looking where.

The problem is pervasive amongst mobile workers, according to the Ponemon Institute Data Breach Study 2014. This survey found that 69 percent of respondents had their visual privacy violated at work, with 55 percent reporting eavesdroppers on the plane, train or bus and 51 percent saying snoopers had been looking over their shoulder whilst working at a cafe or other public place.

Some 71 percent of respondents admitted to looking at a neighbour's screen. Yet while such over-the-shoulder security risks are ubiquitous, they may not be detected until any corporate secrets have already been exploited – far too late for anything to be done about them.

“With more workers accessing confidential information in public spaces, the risk of inadvertently compromising data security has never been higher,” says Damien Jones, general manager for Electronics & Energy with 3M.

While the problem is pervasive, the solution is simple. Purpose-designed filters can be easily applied to restrict the viewing angle of laptops, tablets and smartphones so that the only people able to see the screen are those sitting right in front of it.

“Even in a conference room setting, you can have individuals in the conference room working on confidential data on their devices and information will not be visible to the person immediately adjacent to them,” Jones says.

“These companies have a serious responsibility to maintain the confidentiality of the data they're working with – so there's an emerging demand for physical privacy. The cost of a breach to their brand is significant.”

However, employee awareness of such solutions is still low: while most people are now used to covering their hand while they type in their PIN number at a retail shop, few apply the same protections to other sensitive information.

Reaping the benefits of these filters requires careful planning and a methodical rollout to ensure entire corporate fleets of devices are covered. 3M, for one, regularly works with businesses to help them develop privacy policies and mass deployment of security screens – which is current policy for 3M's fleet of mobile devices – is high on the list.

Little wonder: recent figures from Symantec place the average cost of an opportunistic data breach at $5.5 million. Penalties for compromises of Australia's revised Privacy Act can reach $1.7 million alone.

These risks are bringing physical security to the fore, Jones says: “We've got organisations ranging from banks to government departments that are considering this whole issue.”

“It has never been front of mind but the awareness is here now and it's building. Companies recognise the increasing risks of doing nothing.”

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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Tags security threatdata breachmalicious hackersMobile TechnologiesDamien Jonesgovernment departmentsencrypted dataCSO Australia3MEnex TestLabsymantec

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