We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.
Security

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is Shoulder Surfing?

Malcolm Tatum
By
Updated: May 16, 2024

Shoulder surfing is a practice that involves the observation of an individual and the collection of information without the knowledge or consent of the individual who is being observed. The name for this process refers to the practice of looking over the shoulder of another person in order to ascertain what he or she is doing. In spite of the name, individuals engaged in the act of shoulder surfing do not necessarily have to be physically close by or actually looking over the shoulder of another person in order to secretly collect information.

In most situations, shoulder surfing refers to an activity connected with securing proprietary information that the observer can later use for his or her own benefit. For example, a scam artist may stand in the ideal location to observe an individual as he or she enters a personal identification number (PIN) into an ATM machine. By observing the series of keystrokes, the thief can determine the code sequence and note it for future use. Assuming the thief can later get access to the debit card associated with that PIN, he or she will be able to withdraw funds from the attached account at will.

In crowded checkout lines, shoulder surfing may also be employed as a means of quickly reading account numbers and capturing PIN codes for later use. The advent of small cameras that can be operated without notice may actually create a visual record of a transaction. At a later time, that video can be used to identify the necessary financial information and allow thieves to utilize the data to make unauthorized purchases online.

An electronic version of shoulder surfing makes it possible to capture keystrokes as shoppers enter financial data as a means of making an online purchase. Malicious software that breaks through the web site’s security protocols captures each keystroke made by the shopper, then records it for future use. The end result is unauthorized use of debit and credit cards to make purchases that the owner of the account knows nothing about until either the card statement arrives or the card issuer notices something unusual and places a hold on further purchases, pending an investigation.

With the increasing use of debit and credit cards instead of cash or checks, the opportunity to become a victim of shoulder surfing is greater than ever. Some merchants have taken steps to provide shielding on card terminals to make it harder for others to read card information or see what keys are pressed by the end user. Many merchants will also encourage shoppers to position the upper body at an angle that inhibits the view of anyone standing nearby, making it harder for anyone to see exactly what data the shopper is entering into the point of service (POS) terminal.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
Share
EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.