Security tips for virtual meetings

Open gray laptop with desk light in the background.

Shoulder surfing refers to a threat in which a bad actor in a public place looks at your computer screen “over your shoulder” while you are working, thereby potentially seeing sensitive information that you have on your screen.

With the advent of wide-spread remote work and ubiquitous meetings on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. we now have to consider the reverse: someone being able to look over your shoulder “from your screen” via your web cam to see what is behind you. Remote work is often happening in one of the most private places, your home, and it is possible for bad actors to discover information about you through what is in your house. In addition, it is not always possible to control everything that is going on in your home, especially if you live with other people. If your camera is facing into your house and you inadvertently leave it on, it could capture things that you did not intend.

Precautions you can take to mitigate this risk:

  • Set up your meeting place so you have a blank wall behind you, or neutral decorations.
  • Use application settings to blur your background. Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams have this option.
  • Keep your camera physically covered when you are not using it.

Another common activity in remote work is screen-sharing. Showing other people what is on your screen is a very useful, however it also presents a risk. Online meetings can be recorded without you knowing and if there is sensitive information or documents on your desktop they can be inadvertently exposed in the process of sharing your screen. This is especially important if you use your personal computer for work and you have personal information visible on your screen.

Precautions you can take to mitigate this risk:

  • Keep your desktop clean, with minimal applications visible and all your documents and other files stored in folders.
  • Close any open documents other than what you sharing.
  • You can use a virtual desktop during your meeting to share your screen without exposing open documents on your primary desktop. This is similar to having two monitors except both screens are on the same computer and you can switch between them with a keyboard shortcut.


Blur your background (MS Teams):

Change your virtual background (Zoom):

Use virtual desktops (Microsoft):

Use virtual desktops or “spaces” (macOS):