In the new mobile world of computer use, you don’t always log on from home where your PC has been thoroughly protected. (You took care of that already, right?) Internet cafes, libraries, airports, hotels and other places offer use of a public computer 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, even when you can’t protect the computer.
Several email clients allow you to forward email from one account to another, just as you might forward your phone calls. Take advantage of this little-used feature to enhance your security.
If you plan to be away from home for a few days – but aren’t using your regular PC or laptop – try to forward your email to an account you set up especially for the trip. That helps protect your information in several ways.
Both the account and the password are much less likely to be known to scam artists. Yet, you still can retrieve any email sent while you’re away from your regular computer. Also, if the userid and password do get cracked, your ongoing risk is low, since you’ll be abandoning the account shortly.
If you have to log in to a public computer with one of your regular userids change the password the first time you use it away from home. Then change it back when you get home. That limits your exposure time.
Public computers can contain a specific kind of spyware called ‘a key logger’ that records your every keystroke. Apart from getting your password, that allows the thief to access anything else you typed in during your session. So, avoid making credit card purchases online or accessing your online banking and credit card accounts, if possible.
Before you go to any site that would require a userid 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.