No matter what document you might be working on during your daily commute or what Web site you might be browsing while in the park on your lunch break, screen privacy should be a key priority unless you want everyone to know your business. Leaving commercially sensitive or private personal data exposed to prying eyes could make you vulnerable to threats such as privacy invasion, identity theft and fraud.

3M offers a comprehensive line of computer filters designed to offer privacy protection and help prevent damage to your computer screens. The company’s latest privacy filters, the unpronounceable Vikuiti (around £30), are pitched at the growing netbook market and feature patented micro-louvre technology that blocks the view of a screen to almost everyone but the user sitting directly in front of it.

Privacy concerns
Onscreen data exposure is a recognised security issue and companies in particular should be doing more to educate their remote workforce about the dangers of information snooping while travelling. Despite many netbook users being a technically aware group of travellers with sufficient knowledge to take steps to prevent onscreen data breaches happening, most will likely admit to shoulder surfing their fellow travellers – usually out of curiosity or boredom. As a result, a sizeable majority will probably admit feeling uncomfortable or vulnerable to other travellers shoulder surfing their own laptops.

How would you react if you encountered someone shoulder surfing your onscreen data? Would you turn the screen away? Or would you confront the person? Unfortunately, turning the screen away just isn’t a viable long term option to combat the threat caused by shoulder surfing. As mobile working continues to increase, the risk of netbook and laptop security breaches is only likely to get higher, raising concerns that travelling computer users still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the security risks associated with using their machines in public places.

Ease of use
Perceived as one of the hottest gadgets of 2009, netbooks are coveted by consumers, students, professionals and business people alike for their ease of use, reasonable price and miniature size. The new Vikuiti Netbook Filters from 3M, initially available to fit 8.9-inch and 10.1-inch screen sizes, are an interesting mobile security accessory to help enable onscreen protection of your data. Vikuiti filters have the same flexible, hard-wearing construction as 3M’s existing family of privacy filters for laptops and desktop computers. The patented 3M micro-louvre technology allows an unrestricted front view for the machine’s user, but restricts others from seeing what is on the screen.

Using the filters is reasonably straightforward and you don’t have to worry about damaging your machine. You have a choice of two different ways to attach a Vikuiti filter to your netbook’s display. The first option, which is the simplest but most fiddly, is to simply stick the filter to the display using four of the eight double-sided adhesive stickers supplied – one in each corner, the others are spares. Although doing this means the filter can remain inside the netbook even when closed, the downside is that you are actually applying gunk (and pressure) to your display, which isn’t a great idea.

Alternatively, a selection of adhesive tabs can be stuck to the display’s plastic bezel, then allowing you to slide the privacy filter down into place. This option is not only safer – at least as far as your screen’s health is concerned – but it means you can remove the filter quickly and easily when it’s not needed without the worry of adhesive being left on your display.

Performance
3M’s Vikuiti Netbook Filters use screen darkening privacy technology, rather than common blurring or distorting of screen data to prevent casual onlookers from viewing your screen. What this actually means is that when you are sitting directly in front of your netbook, you won’t even notice the filter – besides a slight darkening of the display’s brightness, which is not unlike a polarising lens in a pair of sunglasses. Move to the side of the machine, however, and it looks like the display isn’t even on.

In effect the filter is reducing the viewing angle, so for the best and clearest view you need to be sitting directly in front of the machine at eye level. What the filter doesn’t do effectively is blank the display for anyone standing behind you and looking down at the display. It does make it harder for them to read text, but it won’t stop them doing so. Clearly, the filter is more effective on the horizontal axis.

Conclusion
We should all take computer privacy more seriously. I’m sure that like me, if you’re sitting in a coffee shop or commuting on a train with your netbook, you don’t want people glancing over to see what you’re working on, even if it’s just browsing the Web or updating your Facebook account. At the end of the day, the personal computer was given its name for a reason.

3M’s Vikuiti privacy filters for netbooks are just as effective as those for laptops, which have been around for years by the way. They are easy to install, lightweight and work very well for what they are designed for – guarding against unwanted sideways glances. The filters also have a couple of positive side effects, including protecting the fragile surface of LCD screens from scuffs and scratches and reducing glare by up to 99%. And if you have a glossy screen and you don’t like it, here’s one way to get that old-fashioned anti-reflective look back. They’re pricey, however, but you can’t put a price on your data.