If you have access to a public computer at a library or some other public location, using a public computer to get online may be convenient, but it's also riskier than using your personal computer, tablet, or smartphone.
In the past public PCs were commonly available at Internet cafes, airports, and many other commercial hubs. While most of those public spaces have transitioned over to the use of personal devices, public PCs are still common in schools, libraries, and hotel business centers. Regardless of their location, if they aren't adequately secured, public PCs are often targeted by unscrupulous people who want to hijack your sensitive information. To reduce your risk, consider these safety tips:
1. Be aware of your digital surroundings.
As you log on to the computer, does the behavior of the computer system raise your suspicions? Does it freeze up a lot and is the browser prone to crashing? These can be telltale signs of a compromised computer. Be on the lookout for any signs that the computer may be infected by a computer virus which could be logging your keystrokes or taking screenshots of your online activity.
2. Avoid accessing your private data.
Doing online banking, stock trades, and other financial transactions is not a good idea. Neither is entering your credit card number to shop online. It's possible that a hi-tech thief may have installed keylogger software on the computer. It secretly records your keystrokes, then e-mails it to him. Armed with that information, he can access your accounts.
It's also best to avoid accessing any password-protected accounts if possible. If you must access a password protected account, change the password using your personal computer or device at your first opportunity.
3. Log out of any accounts.
If you've accessed a website that requires a login (for instance, your e-mail or bank account), make sure to log out by clicking the appropriate link (usually locate at the top right of the page).
4. Use Private Browsing or Incognito Mode and Close the Browser When You're Done.
Virtually all browsers now offer an operating mode in which no user data is stored. Depending on the browser you're using this mode may be called Incognito Mode, InPrivate Browsing, or a Private Window. Open a browser window, open the menu at the top of the browser, and enable this mode. For extra protection, close all browser windows and any other programs that may be running.
5. Don't leave the computer unattended.
If you have to leave temporarily, log out and close the program you're using. Don't just minimize the window. Never walk away from a public computer before you have closed all programs, deleted any files you created, and logged out of the operating system.
6. Don't let the computer save your login information.
Some operating systems attempt to save your username and password. Click “No” if a pop-up or check box offers to save your login credentials. Depending on the settings applied to the web browser installed on the system, it may record your passwords and account names as well. However, as long as you use the private browsing settings we suggested above, this shouldn't happen.
7. Cover your tracks.
Before logging off, take a moment to think about the things you used the computer for. Did you create a document or spreadsheet? Make sure it's deleted. Then right-click on the trash can on the desktop and choose Empty to permanently delete the files.
Did you use the browser? Verify that no personal information was saved by reopening a private browsing window and looking at the web history. If you do find evidence of your activity click on the menu button, select the browser settings option, and select the option to delete all personal data including history, temporary Internet files, browser cache, cookies, form data, autocomplete entries, and any other types of data the browser allows you to delete.
8. Consider fellow surfers.
Avoid opening suspicious e-mail attachments or downloading software. Don't do anything that may potentially infect the computer and cause problems for the next user.