From publicly disclosed incidents, we know that more than 8.5 billion records were leaked or compromised in 2019. 1 Monetary losses due to data breaches continue to pile up; the FBI reports that U.S. victims were robbed of $3.5 billion in 2019. 2 But money isn’t the only thing at stake. Tactics like inserting ransomware have evolved to implanting ransomworms, which can cripple infrastructure.
The stakes have been raised, and the challenge faced by information security teams and their IT counterparts has never been greater. While we closely monitor networks, reinforce firewalls, and install patches, we may be ignoring a critical vulnerability — one that is staring us in the face — the sensitive information displayed on our computer screens.
Sooner or later, all data becomes visual and when it does, it’s susceptible to visual hacking.³
“Protecting the company’s assets is a role that everyone in the organization needs to play. Security is the responsibility of all employees.”
—Michael Musto, Deputy Chief Information Security Officer, 3M
The next time you attend a conference or event, take a minute to look around and note the amount of exposed data displayed on phones and laptops. Anyone wandering by could snap a picture of a screen displaying sensitive data. It can happen in the blink of an eye. In the Global Visual Hacking Experiment, a white hat researcher walking through an office was successful in obtaining sensitive data 81% of the time. ⁴ Electronic data breaches typically leave a trail for forensics investigators to follow, whereas visual hacks may leave no trace.
A simple step toward keeping visual data private.
Inadvertently, or intentionally, insiders are responsible for around 30% of confirmed data exposures to unauthorized parties. ⁵ Consider the people that may go through an office building on any particular day— visitors, contractors, delivery persons, even employees from different departments. What can everybody see? And what is that information worth?
A low-cost solution exists.
A privacy filter attaches to a display and is designed for a user to have a clear view of their screen while blocking side views so that even someone sitting next to them won’t be able to read their data.
"Visual hacking presents a unique challenge that cannot be solved through digital technologies. There are limited solutions protecting our privacy against this threat.”
3M and other Fortune 500 companies have begun to act. Much of the workforce switched from using desktop computers to using laptops more than 10 years ago. 3M IT security teams realized then that screen privacy had become an essential component for a comprehensive IT data protection plan. The impetus behind investing in privacy filters is to help safeguard intellectual property, trade secrets, communications and customer information. Now, every 3M U.S. employee receives a privacy filter with their laptop.
When 3M Deputy Chief Information Security Officer, Michael Musto, discusses data protection with his counterparts at other companies, he often observes that “they, like us, are overwhelmed with electronic security measures; let alone having bandwidth to take on the physical security measures of privacy screens.” Michael adds, “The attacks are relentless, and the threats are always changing.”
“The new norm of working from anywhere requires us to be smarter than our adversaries.”
Even for the leader in screen privacy solutions, 3M still struggles with getting employees to fully embrace and use privacy filters. Implementing consistent use of privacy filters across a large workforce can be challenging. Writing mandatory use into a company’s information security policy is key, but changing human behavior to use them – and be fully compliant – is a continuous effort. Making the filters easy to use is important. It shouldn’t be a cumbersome task to take them off and put them back on when co-workers collaborate and share screens, but ease of use sometimes isn’t enough.
Incentives can help. 3M Global PC Hardware Lead, Ed Nelson, has some ideas about motivating staff. “In an initial rollout, you could have a ‘Spot: Reward’ campaign – get caught using your privacy filter and get a discount coupon for the company cafeteria.” Ed believes that, given the opportunity, all employees want to contribute to the good reputation and financial stability of their organization.
The modern work environment has changed nearly as rapidly as information technology. Cubicle walls have shrunk over time, migrating staff from enclosures to open office environments. Office space architects are designing conference rooms with expansive glass windows, where meeting participants don’t feel confined and trapped. Large format monitors can be easily visible from the halls or even outside on the street. If these screens are unprotected there may be unintended consequences. A company may discover too late that an early earnings report meant for the C-suite, became the talk of Wall Street when an inquisitive visitor wandered by.
IT managers and information security officers can work on solutions together. Take a walk through the building and take note of what can be seen on screens, especially in high traffic areas. Organizations where client data is displayed and collected — e.g., hospitals, airport terminals and even coffee shops — need to take extra precautions to ensure that personal and financial information is shielded.
Mobile employees need screen privacy too. Many people have experienced the annoyance of sitting in the middle seat on an airplane, laptop open, when they notice the passenger next to them staring at their screen. It’s human nature to innocently glance at an exposed screen, but not everyone has innocent intentions.
Illustration of multi-level open office space with 14 silhouetted workers seated in waiting areas, at long tables, in offices and cubicles with short walls. Some are standing. Image labels are: open office floor plans, open cubicles, offices near windows, shared workspaces and high traffic areas.
What we learn from newsworthy data breaches is that we need to be vigilant and help protect our valuable data both electronically and physically.
At 3M, IT hardware managers like Ed Nelson can and do assist in these initiatives. Their efforts may help deter hackers, address insider threats, and help prevent mobile related leaks by providing privacy filters with company issued laptops. It’s a low-cost investment with the potential of saving millions of dollars of damage caused by unauthorized use of company information.
3M Global PC Hardware Lead
Ed Nelson has served in information security, project management and hardware procurement at 3M. In his current role, he tests and evaluates PC’s, monitors and accessories for all global employees. Prior to this, he worked in endpoint security as the LANDESK administrator for global patch management where he maintained a 95% deployment rate of workstation patches within two weeks of patch release. Ed regards 3M employees as clients, and strives to provide high-performance computing tools that will support productivity while keeping valuable company data secure.
Deputy Chief Information Security Officer, 3M
Michael Musto has over 38 years’ experience in spanning roles in information technology, product development, and cybersecurity for companies in high tech manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and technology as a service industries. In his role at 3M as the Deputy Chief Information Security Officer he has responsibility for cybersecurity architecture, mergers & acquisitions, and supports R&D and Manufacturing 4.0. Mike credits his success to developing strong relationships with key stakeholders in an organization and external partnerships to enable business decisions and strategy.
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1 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2020
2 FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, 2019 Internet Crime Report
3 Visual hacking is the practice of capturing sensitive, private, or confidential information for unauthorized use.
4 Average based on global trials conducted by Ponemon Institute during the “Visual Hacking Experiment,” 2015, and the “Global Visual Hacking Experiment,” 2016, both sponsored by 3M.
5 Reporting on 157,525 incidents and 3,950 were confirmed data breaches in 2019 – 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report
6 Ponemon Institute Public Spaces Survey Study, 2017