The Visual Hack: Is Your Space Plan Leaking Information?

Cyber attacks are often seen as high-tech crimes involving elusive, amoral code geniuses in foreign countries who work as much for the glory of a brilliant hack as for the enormous paychecks crime bosses deposit in their Swiss bank accounts. However, many cyber crimes begin in a very low-tech way – the visual hack, in which sensitive information is stolen by a seemingly innocent visitor looking over a partition or passing by a cubicle. Usernames, passwords, and printed documents are favorites for visual hackers, who use the information to access a company’s proprietary information, HR records, and other confidential data.

In this study commissioned by 3M, security experts known as “white hat hackers” were able to steal log-ins, financial data, customer lists, and other sensitive data, often within just 15 minutes of beginning their visual-hack test session. The study pointed to the visual accessibility of open-plan offices as one of several factors in the thefts.

Despite the security risk, businesses are reluctant to abandon open office plans, with their benefits of spatial adaptability, lower costs, and positive employee management. Rather than scrapping open-plan offices, an in-depth space utilization risk assessment is the more practical solution to identifying where and how sensitive data can be kept secure without turning open offices into dark data vaults. Check with your office design professionals for an assessment.


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