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Friday, April 17, 2015

1582. Using a Public Computer Safely

When I’m traveling I often find public computers available for my use in hotels and other locations. I feel a little queasy about using computers just sitting there in hotel lobbies and airports. Are there any precautions I should take when using public computers like these?
If we had the option, we’d prefer not to use public computers at all. Sure, they’re sitting there, all tempting and everything, but you’re just asking for trouble if you use one for anything other than casual Web browsing. You have no idea what they’ve been used for previously, and have no idea who has touched it before you got there (and we’re not even considering the germs and stuff)! In the worst-case scenario, someone could have installed a key logging utility that tracks and transmits every keystroke you enter, waiting for you to enter a crucial password and then steal the information that you enter.
Computer viruses spread easily, and can infect a USB drive that you plug in. It’s all too easy to attach a USB drive, get infected with a virus, and then attach that same drive to your own computer and propagate the virus. You’ll probably want to be slightly circumspect about using your USB devices with a public computer.
The only time Ken has used a public computer at a hotel is to print a boarding pass (back in the days when printed boarding passes were “a thing”). Even then, using the public computer was a little worrisome, as you have to enter your airline password to print the boarding pass. We have a few suggestions, if you find that you must use a public computer.
First, you want to ensure that subsequent users of the computer can’t tell where you’ve been, and what data you’ve entered. To make this happen, make sure you use the browser’s “in cognito” or “anonymous” mode, so that the browser doesn’t add any of your browsing history to its stored history, and doesn’t save any cookies. In addition, take a moment and clear the browser’s cache and cookies once you’re done—the steps to do this are specific to the browser, but generally you can find the option to clear these in the Internet options for the specific browser.

There are other precautions you might want to take, as well. For a more complete list, check out the article here:

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