A “new” type of privacy problem?

Posted: July 17, 2009 in conferences, iphone, iug 2009, security
Tags: , , , ,

We hear about a lot of different types of computer-related security issues these days – hacking attempts, virus infections, phishing scams and the like. At the recent American Library Association annual conference, I noticed a couple of behaviors that reminded me that not all security breaches are high-tech escapades.

On a couple of different occasions during the conference, I was typing notes into my laptop during a session when the person next to me leaned over, stared at my screen for a few seconds to see what I was typing, and then went back to his/her own notes. I was a little shocked, but probably not as offended as I should have been. I realize that these people were probably just trying to catch a few words that they might have missed during the presentation. I didn’t have any sensitive data on the screen so it shouldn’t have been a big deal . . . but it still feels wrong. Maybe it’s because I was taught that it’s impolite to come up behind someone and read over their shoulder without being invited to do so. Or perhaps it’s because a complete stranger very pointedly read my screen. Whatever.

My next example falls along those lines as well. Think about all of those nice, glossy iPhone screens we’ve all gotten so used to seeing. One thing about them – they’re big – at least compared to a regular cell phone screen, and their size makes them pretty easy to see. A couple of times during the conference I noticed people leaning forward in their seats and staring fixedly at an iPhone in the row in front of them. Now maybe they were just trying to figure out what that cool app was so that they could download it later. Or maybe they just had to know what that person was tweeting or texting. But again, it just feels like a no-no.

It kind of reminds me of those social engineering horror stories in which someone was duped into typing in a password while another person just stood behind them and watched their keystrokes. The big difference though is that there is no duping here. In some cases perhaps people are just being rude while others are being careless. In a lot of meetings it just doesn’t really matter because everyone is busy trying to get the same notes, and their isn’t a security issue at all. But increasingly I see people absolutely buried in their laptops and cell phones, logging into e-mail, Twitter accounts, and all manner of other services without being aware of their surroundings. Let’s just hope none of them are sysadmins with the keys to the kingdom, eh?

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