Using A Public Computer? Protect Yourself

It seems like, wherever you go, there is always a computer available for public use. Computer access, whether for reading email, or surfing the web, is almost a necessity today.

But don't let these public conveniences misguide you. If not properly used, they can place your bank account, or your identity, at risk. Any time you use a public computer, for anything other than anonymous web access, take precautions. Using a public computer may involve many of the same security risks as using a public WiFi network. It will also present additional security challenges.

  • Take note of your surroundings. Don't use a public computer unless absolutely necessary, where it's within casual view of any passerby.
  • If you must use a public computer for any authenticated activity, like reading web email, you will be entering your account name and password. Try and block the view of the keyboard, and the monitor, from any casual passerby or nearby customers, as you enter your account and password. Watch the stranger next to you, using a cellphone (camera?).
  • Remember what you're reading, and writing, is visible to anybody near you. This may not be the best place to start a long involved letter to anybody with any privacy concerns. Treat your friends (the recepients of your email) with respect.
  • When you're on a public computer, would you walk away and leave your purse or notebook sitting on a table? I'd bet not. Don't go strolling to the restroom, either, while logged in. Get your coffee, etc, before you login.
  • When you leave, make sure that you leave no traces of your presence. Don't leave yourself exposed to the next user of that computer.

    • Always log off whatever services you were using.
    • Never select "Remember Me" or anything similar, on any website or program, when asked for a name, nym, or password. You do not want to be remembered. Always plan on logging in, each time.
    • If at all possible, clear all cookies, and delete temporary Internet files. Here's where knowing the menu options on the browser becomes essential. You don't want to have to go ask a staff member at the coffeeshop how to clear your cookies (as if they would know).
    • If convenient, shut down and restart the computer before leaving. Watch it until it goes into the BIOS check, to ensure that it is shutting down. A shutdown and restart is the best way to refresh memory, and ensure that no memory based traces of your visit remain.

You don't have to be paranoid - 9 out of 10 of the folks watching you are simply wishing that they knew how to use the computer so confidently. Or they're waiting their turn (will he hurry up and finish!). Regardless, take reasonable precautions. Don't become an identity theft victim, from using a public computer.