The Curious Case of Shoulder Surfing: How Libraries Pose Security Risks

Whenever you’re in college and want to go where the fun is, you can always head to…the library? Seems like an odd choice, but eMarketer reports that today’s generation of college students are spending more time in front of digital screens than they are back in their rooms watching TV. The library is no longer a place to cram or to pick up books for a last-minute essay: It’s a place where students connect with one another, whether they’re a room away or a state away. This connection is not without risk, however. What threats lurk in libraries?

Mobile Theft

Leave a cell phone on the table while you go to the bathroom, or your laptop on while you head to the printer. Come back, and it’s gone. If this sounds like a familiar story, you have company. Theft is by far the most common crime reported on a college campus. The theft often involves a laptop or mobile phone snatched up when the owner took their eyes off of it for a split second. Pulling an all-nighter at the library may make you less thoughtful of the risks of taking a smoke break or thinking that you are alone in the study section may make you take risks. Whatever the case, you can easily prevent theft simply by having your mobile on your person at all times. Lock it down whenever you do not use it.

Shoulder Surfing

When a person walks by you half a dozen times, they may just admire your shoes or your watch…or they may try to sneak a glance at the digits on display on your screen. “Shoulder surfing” is a real risk to college students at the library or in the dorms, since our passwords, student numbers and even credit card information may show up on display at any given time to anyone who walks past. Be aware of shoulder surfing by accessing password-specific sites before you go to the library and never putting personal information on a page unless you’re in the safety of your apartment or dorm. Get protection against shoulder surfers with an identity theft protection service, so that those who do try to shoulder-snipe your data come away empty handed once they hit the protective wall.

Class Papers

With several hundred students under their charge, a professor likely asks you to include name, student ID and possibly a contact number. If you throw away old papers at the library, you never know who is coming to pick up the trash and glean this treasure trove of personal information. College students are at some of the greatest risks for identity theft, says the Better Business Bureau, partly because they do not realize the importance of shredding or destroying sensitive information. A fellow student, library worker, janitor or random person off the street can take a thrown-out paper and use the information in conjunction with student records or social media pages to steal your identity.

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