The Film That Stops “Visual Hacking”

If someone who is not the intended reader of your computer screen looks at it and is able to get a glimpse of confidential information this in theory can now be classed as “visual hacking”.

A little over the top you say? Perhaps, but Hewlett Packard in alliance with 3M however are selling a plastic based film that can be placed across your computer screen so that it acts as a “Privacy Filter”. In a recent Press Release Alex Cho, Vice President and General Manager Commercial PCs at HP says that the film “provides security for valuable company assets” as much as for individual PC users. Herve Gindre, Vice President and General Manager of Display Materials and Systems Division at 3M goes on to say that “Visual hacking is a growing problem”.

With so many of us now working on our notebook / laptop computers in very public places e.g. on the train or in cafes even if we don’t always feel that there is a risk of deliberate and potentially dangerous visual hacking, we may feel however that we at least don’t really want the person next to or across from us seeing what we’re looking at. The more sceptical among us may feel that it is likely to be this lesser kind of fear appeal that could be the motivator for purchasing a product that has previously been marketed more as a “screen darkening” product rather than a hacking defence tactic.

How Much of a Problem is Visual Hacking?

In reality it may be difficult to prove exactly how information has been obtained and we could assume that a deliberate visual hacker would be unlikely to share news of the number of their successes with the world.

In the same Press Release however HP highlight a recent Ponemon Institute survey which shows that nearly 90 % of attempts to steal sensitive business information using only visual means were successful. According to 3M the survey was reportedly based on results obtained when a covert experiment took place whereby an undercover white hat hacker was sent into several participating corporate offices According to the survey the information compromised by this visual hacking included employee access and login information, contact lists and customer information, and financial information. 3M reported that in the survey on average 5 pieces of sensitive information were “visually hacked” per trial with nearly half of the attempts successful in less than 15 minutes.

How The Privacy Film Works

In essence the privacy film developed using 3M technology is a piece of dark plastic that doesn't let out light on a wide angle. This way the screen can still be seen by the PC user looking directly at it but not by others further away / and or at an angle to it. According to HP’s press release the new 3M privacy screens are going to be integrated into the screen of HP’s notebook PCs. The screens can currently be purchased online separately to fit a variety of different screen sizes.