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HP, 3M to Shield Laptop Screens From Visual Hacking

By Richard Adhikari
Oct 15, 2015 1:43 PM PT

HP and 3M on Wednesday announced a collaboration to integrate 3M privacy screens with HP notebook PCs.

HP, 3M to Shield Laptop Screens From Visual Hacking

The technology is intended to keep cyberspies from gathering information by doing nothing more sophisticated than looking over a user's shoulder -- what the companies call "visual hacking." HP and 3M consider it a significant risk.

"3M is developing an innovative light-enhancement film that can be incorporated into a system that enables light to be directed to other viewers when you want information sharing, and away from onlookers when you need private viewing," 3M spokesperson Jessica Walton said.

The system "leverages several core 3M technology platforms, including microreplication, optical adhesives and predictive modeling design," she told TechNewsWorld.

The results of the collaboration likely will show up first on mainstream commercial notebooks, according to HP.

The Evil Eye

Close to 90 percent of visual hacking attempts were successful, according to a Ponemon Institute survey published earlier this year.

Twenty percent of the data hacked was considered very valuable information assets, the study found.

Some 49 percent of data breaches reported over a 12-month period involved the loss or theft of paper documents, according to an earlier Ponemon study.

Given the move toward digitization, especially in sensitive areas such as healthcare, visual hacking might well focus on devices with electronic screens. With the possible exception of those who have a photographic memory, though, visual hackers would need a camera to steal data, especially when it's fairly complex.

The Electronic Danger

Laptop owners have been using privacy filters for years to prevent third parties from being able to view their screens.

However, "the vast majority of mobile devices are not PCs," Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, pointed out.

Installing the 3M technology on smartphones and tablets, therefore, might be more beneficial, he told TechNewsWorld. "Granted, their screens are harder to see from a distance, but they are more prevalent."

On the other hand, visual hacking is practiced more often against PCs, McGregor said, because whether they're laptops or desktops, they are "usually in a stationary position for a longer period of time than mobile devices, and have larger screens."

Visual hacking occurs in offices, planes, libraries, hotel lobbies -- "anywhere people sit down for extended periods of time to work," he noted. However, the information that can be gathered through visual hacking is "rather limited," unless the hackers can capture or record the screen image.

The HP-3M Approach

"It makes sense to include [a privacy screen] in the laptop screen," McGregor said. This likely wasn't done before "because the focus has been on increasing the screen visibility from wider angles, not decreasing it."

However, such a privacy film might decrease the brightness of the laptop screen, forcing the battery to drive the display harder for the level of brightness the device owner is used to and thus reducing battery life, he suggested.

It also would "make it harder to use the device," McGregor cautioned, "when working with or trying to share information with someone."


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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