In the new computer age, We don’t always log on from home where our PC’s are thoroughly protected. (You took care of that already, right?) Cyber cafes, libraries, airports, hotels and other places offer use of a public terminal for those on the go. But, unfortunately, those computers may not always get secured well nor checked regularly. And, since others use them, they can get infected only minutes before it’s your turn.
Here are a few tips for how to protect your information while using a public computer.
Most of the email clients nowadays allow you to forward email from one account to another, just as you forward your phone calls. Take advantage of this feature to enhance your security.
If you plan to be away from home for a few days – but aren’t using your regular computer or laptop – try to forward your email to an account you set up especially for the trip. This helps protect your information a lot.
Both the account and the password are much less likely to be known to scam artists. Yet, you can retrieve any email sent while you’re away from your regular PC. Also, if the userid and password do get cracked, your ongoing risk is low, since you’ll be abandoning this temporary account shortly.
If you have to log in to a public computer with one of your regular username change the password the first time you use it away from home. Then change it back when you get back home, This limits your exposure time.
Public computers can contain a specific kind of spyware/trojan called ‘a key-logger’ that records your every keystroke. Apart from getting your logins and passwords, that also allows the thief to access anything else you typed in during your session. So, you must avoid making credit-card transactions online or accessing your online banking and credit-card accounts.
Before you go to any site that would require a username and/or password, disable any auto-complete or password storing feature. If you can because some public computers have these features locked down by the administrator.
Avoid unfamiliar sites, if practical, while you are away. Most online hacks come from auto-downloads of spyware, viruses, etc. Few of the sites you visit regularly are likely to have those. Just as you would avoid talking to unsavory strangers while on a trip, avoid dicey websites.
Defer clicking on ads while you’re away from home. Those can lead to just the kinds of sites mentioned above.
Once you are done using the public computer, erase – if you can – here again administrators may not allow you to access the feature – any Temporary Internet files, cookies, etc. This helps protect not only you, but leaves the computer in a better state for the next user.
Needless to say, don’t leave any downloaded files on the computer and never allow anyone to look over your shoulder while you are typing in a password or other sensitive information.
Paranoia isn’t needed. But a little awareness and sound judgment while using a public computer will help keep your information secure – then and after you get back home.
One last tip would be to use a better secure browser like Firefox or Opera while surfing on your home PC as well as a public computer.