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Screen Privacy: How to Protect Yourself from Visual Hacking

Screen privacy is a major concern when dealing with sensitive data, and it’s a problem we don’t think enough about. It is surprisingly easy to steal visible data with low-tech visual hacking techniques. Luckily, there are a number of actions you can take right away to resolve data vulnerabilities. Also, you’re not going to want to miss the deep dive into one of the most effective tools: privacy screens for your monitor.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about screen privacy. Or learn more about ViewSonic’s advanced screen privacy filters.

Screen privacy is a problem in an increasingly data-driven society. From online banking and business transactions to social media and personal communications, we access a huge amount of sensitive information through our screens. But have you ever wondered who else is also looking? 

With all the modern focus on cyber-security protecting us from online threats, it’s easy to forget the low-tech security vulnerabilities like what people can physically see on your display or important documents you have just lying around. 

Why Is Screen Privacy Important?

To be honest, there are many contexts in which screen privacy is completely unnecessary. Your home computer probably doesn’t need to secure visual data. Nor does a screen in a small team of trusted colleagues in a windowless room. 

But if you work in a public space – either in the general public or at a large organization – then securing the content on your monitor becomes an essential security measure. You never know who is watching (or recording) your work. And if you’re not protecting your data from prying eyes nearby, you’re opening up very dangerous vulnerabilities for you and your organization. 

Moreover, visual data protection becomes unavoidable if you regularly work with confidential data like medical records, financial transactions, or clients’ work protected by non-disclosure agreements. Think about how much personal data is displayed on a typical nurse’s station or bank teller’s computer. If you work in these roles, it’s your responsibility to protect your others’ sensitive information as well. 

You need to protect data from visual hacking.

ViewSonic Healthcare Privacy Filter Infographic

What is Visual Hacking?

Visual hacking has to be one of the lowest-tech ways to steal information. (It is only slightly more complex than just stealing a paper document off a table.) However, being simple doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. A shocking experiment by the Ponemon Institute (see here for more) showed just how vulnerable office environments are social engineering hacks, especially visual hacking. 

At its simplest, visual hacking involves just seeing information on a screen and remembering it. Given the prevalence of smartphones, however, it’s not hard to snap a photo or record a video under the pretense of checking a text message. A pretense may not even be necessary. Are you really aware of what everyone is doing on their devices around you at any given time? Did you just look over your shoulder now?

Despite its simplicity, visual hacking poses real risks of a data breach and you need to be on guard.

What Can I Do to Improve Screen Privacy?

There are plenty of solutions for reducing visual hacking and improving screen privacy. They vary in complexity and not all are universally applicable. 

  • Use partitions or walls around screens. Open office floor plans make visual hacking much easier. Cubicles and offices make it much easier to keep visual data safe by blocking both displays and hard copies from view. 
  • Turn screens away from public view. Whenever possible, keep your displays facing away from public thoroughfares and high-traffic areas to limit exposure.
  • Make sure to turn unattended displays off. Whenever you step away from your computer, remember to put it to sleep behind a password-protected login. 
  • Keep your desk clear of sensitive documents. Visual hacking targets more than just screens. It can also target paper documents and information. At a minimum, make sure any folders, documents, or notes containing sensitive information are put away.
  • Get a privacy filter for your computer screen. This is the single action that will do the most good in securing your work from unwanted attention. It is a hardware solution that is easy to implement then maintain with no input besides installation.

What is a Computer Privacy Screen Filter?

A computer privacy screen filter is a thin layer of polarized plastic that significantly reduces the viewing angle for your screen. Ideally, this means that the view of your screen is perfectly clear for you as the user while others off to the sides only see a dark screen. All your visual data is hidden unless you are looking at the screen head-on.

A privacy filter for a monitor is a thin layer of high-tech plastic – usually polycarbonate or acrylic – that combines an anti-glare coating with angled slats or panels with the material’s structure. The results are allowing light to pass through the plastic layer at only certain angles. Non-ideal angles either block the light entirely or only emit a single color of light. 

Besides turning off your screen entirely, screen privacy through one of these monitor filters is one of the best ways to safeguard yourself from visual hacking.

You can learn more about privacy filters here: Privacy Filters for Monitors Offer Reliable Protection

How Do I Use a Privacy Screen?

A privacy screen is functionally just a screen coating that blocks the light from certain angles. There are a few different ways to install one, however, and each has its own use cases.

  • Hangers sometimes fix the screen to a monitor or laptop. This makes the filter easy to add and remove. This is a good option for people who sometimes have to collaborate with others and will, therefore, need to periodically remove the privacy filter. Additionally, this version is useful if the plan is to share privacy filters among several devices.
  • Stick-on tabs are a more permanent way to get screen privacy. The tabs are permanently stuck to the monitor, but the filter itself is removable. This is also a good option for people who have to collaborate without a privacy filter. It’s not as shareable, however, as the tabs are stuck to your device. 
  • Permanent adhesive is an option for use cases that always need extra protection from visual hacking and unwanted attention. Like a phone screen protector, this option is permanently glued to your display and cannot be removed or shared. However, it is a handy set-it-and-forget-it option.

Once your privacy screen is installed, however, it will automatically work to reduce the visibility of your screen to anyone outside the optimal viewing angle. 

It’s worth remembering, though that there is not a hard line between visible and hidden, so certain viewing angles will still be able to see some of your screen’s content. 

Can I Trim a Privacy Filter?

In short, you can cut a privacy filter down to the desired size. It’s not the best course of action, though as there are a variety of sizes available and it’s likely that you can get the size you need right out of the package. If you either can’t or don’t want to find the right size, you can still cut a filter down to size.

It’s also very important to be very careful in cutting your privacy filter. A good one can be pretty expensive, and scratching or damaging the screen protector will typically void the warranty. Likewise, cutting into a polarizing layer could throw off the image quality. 

If it’s absolutely necessary to cut your privacy filter to fit your screen, make sure to measure carefully and use both a very sharp utility knife and a straight edge to make the cut. (You can learn more here.)

How Do I Remove a Privacy Screen?

As mentioned above, if you plan to add and remove your privacy screen periodically, you’re going to want to go with an attachment option that allows for that. If you’ve opted for the permanent adhesive version, however, it will likely be much more difficult to remove. 

The process is much like that of removing a tempered glass screen protector, which you can learn more about here.

So Is Anti-glare the Same as a Privacy Screen?

While most privacy screens include anti-glare coatings, not all anti-glare screens have privacy filters. It’s mostly a matter of convenience: it’s not that difficult to add a basic feature like anti-glare to a privacy screen. 

Since privacy features often increase the price of the screen filter, be sure that it’s what you’re actually looking for. If anti-glare is enough for you, there’s no point paying the premium for a privacy filter for your monitor. On the other hand, if privacy is the goal make sure that the filter you’re looking at has al the necessary features to hide your display from prying eyes.

What is the Best Privacy Screen Filter for Monitors?

To get the best screen privacy for your visual data, you’re probably going to look for a few key features. These will help you get the most protection with the least effort. 

Easy Installation

To make things simple, make sure that the privacy filter is easy to install. (And also make sure it’s easy to add or remove if that’s what you’re going to be doing.)

Screen Privacy with ViewSonic Privacy Filter

Small Viewing Angle

Since the goal is screen privacy, make sure that whatever screen filter you use has very limited viewing angles. For example, ViewSonic’s VSPF series has a viewing angle of just 60°. 

Minimal Effect on User Experience

While we want to make sure others can’t see the screen clearly, it’s important that the privacy screen doesn’t affect the user’s experience. A high-quality privacy filter screen protector will have virtually no impact on display quality.

Final Thoughts on Screen Privacy

Screens now play a leading role in every element of our lives from work to play. We have TV screens in our living rooms, monitors on our desks, and smartphones in our pockets. But we need to remember that our screens are mixed blessings. Without taking proper precautions, our displays represent real vulnerabilities for data theft. 

With just a few screen privacy best practices – including a good privacy filter on especially vulnerable devices – we can keep all of our sensitive data safer from visual hackers and other low-tech bad actors. Just a few basic precautions can make a world of difference.

Want to see the difference a good privacy filter makes? Take a look at the VSPF2700 for more on ViewSonic’s privacy filter screen protectors (or find one that fits your screen here.)

Or click here to learn more about how ViewSonic can provide beginning-to-end secure authentication solutions for your business.