How to be safe on a public computer?
Sometimes we may need to use public computers at internet cafes, libraries, airports or railway stations. Travelers without their own internet-enabled devices have no other option but to access internet via public computers for emergency needs like checking emails. Even some users who have their own broadband internet connection have an occasional habit of going online in a public place using the systems available in these areas. But, how far these public computers ensure our privacy, security and protection of personal data when we use them to go online? Do the system administrators of public computers really care about these things? Most of them do, of course. However, for ensuring 100% safety, we, as users, should put in use some important security measures when we use public computers to surf the net.
Why internet access on public computers can be risky?
People sometimes forgetfully leave their belongings like bags, cellphones, pen, books, even some important information scribbled in paper in internet cafe. This is not a security risk, though. When you ever do so and hurry back to claim your personal belonging later, you are sure to face an awkward situation. If you get it back, remember, such things are very rare. So, always be careful of your personal things at public places.
Choose the computer that provides maximum privacy and freedom. In libraries and popular internet cafes, finding a computer fitting this criteria could be a bit difficult. Choose a PC in the corner or some isolated computer as this helps you do your things much faster without any interruption. Second, you can enter passwords safely to access your email account. Never enter password in the forms or open important doucments when someone is standing nearby you.
A public computer could even be watched by a security camera. If so, you would need to hide your secret information like login details from its view.
System adminstrator or library professional is supposed to clear the cookies, cache and temp files after every internet session. If you find that the previous session was not erased, ask the professional to do it or you can do it by going to internet options settings. This will help removing virus, spyware installed in the previous sessions and you can be assured that you can safely use devices like pen drive on a public computer.
A public computer enabled with 'keylogger' feature can accurately read whatever you typed just by sensing the hit on the key board. This means, your credit card details and other private information can be easily seen by any who manages the system. So, do not use public computers for credit card transactions.
'Auto complete' is a useful feature in a home PC, it is not so with public computers. This feature remembers usernames and passwords and autocompletes the details everytime when we type first one or two letters. Make sure that it is disabled on the public computer, otherwise, others may access your personal information.
How safe are you on a public computer?
On a public computer, the following personal information is more likely to be stolen:
- Your email user, password details.
- User & password details of any websites like Facebook or premium sites you are subscribed to.
- Your credit card details
- Your Emails containing private information
- Files you transfer between disks and websites
General safety rules for browsing on a public computer
If possible,browse the websites that do not require log in information.
If you log in a website, do not forget to click 'sign out' button after the session. Just closing the browser does not mean you are logged out. Manually logging out option prevents storing of your login details on the public computer.
Some websites/browsers would ask you to use 'Remember password' option. Never use it on a public PC.
Don't save files on a public computer. Your files become insecure and anybody can access them after the session. Use flash drive or disk, if you need to download email attachment or other files from websites.
When you delete your files stored locally on the PC, they are sent to Recycle bin. Make sure that you empty the Recycle Bin as well so that the hard drive does not have a trace.
If you want to use disk, flash drive to download or upload information, make sure that you use anti-virus software or anti-spyware filter. Before downloading the same information on your personal computer, scan all the files again for virus and malware.
Browsers keep track of the websites you visited, the user & passwords details you entered etc and store them as files. You can delete these files easily: Go to Tools>Internet options in your Internet Explorer. Click the content tab and then click AutoComplete. Uncheck the boxes related to passwords.
You can also delete all temperary temporary Internet files and your history details for better privacy. For that go to Tools>Internet Options>General tab. Click 'Delete files' under Temporary Internet files and also click 'Delete cookies'. Click 'Clear History' to erase your history details.
If you are using Firefox, go to Tools>Options>Privacy tab. Then click on 'Always Clear My Private Data When I Close Firefox'. This will delete history, cache and the information stored during the session. You can also erase cookies and passwords by going to Settings and choosing these options.
Now you need to make sure that your erase page file as well. This file contains all information related to your browsing session. To delete page file, go to Control Panel and click Adminstrative Tools. Go to Local Security Policy and then click Security. Then, among the options available on the right hand, choose Clear Virtual Memory Pagefile. Make it enabled by double clicking it.
After the session, reboot the computer as this will erase RAM as well as page file.
Things you should avoid on a public computer
- Public computer is not a right place for online shopping or online banking. Never use cash card transactions using public computers.
- Do not pass very sensitive, personal information using a public computer. Documents, images, or any information of such nature require more secure places, definitely not public computers.
- Just leaving the browser or not logging out manually, before you leave the public computer. All your information is open to the next user. So be careful.
Tip for protecting your email account
Instead of using regular email account, better use a temporary account on a public computer. Just create a free email account and get the mails forwarded to this account. Your personal email account is now completely safe.
To ensure more safety, you can change the password immediately after the use on a public computer.