Article 32: Public Computers

So you’ve got a really nice laptop, and a sweet smartphone, right? And their batteries are dead. For whatever reason, sometimes you have to use a public computer. Libraries and workstations that are not at home or get stowed in your pocket have different rules, because they are not yours. When you browse the internet or check your favorite online sites, you want to know that your information is not being stored locally or given to people that should not have them. Let’s look at a few tips and tricks that will keep your identity safe online when your favorite window into the internet is unavailable.

Save Password for this Site?

How many passwords do you have? If you were to count them up you would probably be surprised. Banks, social media, email, games, every reward-membership program, it seems like every site on the planet wants you to create an account these days. Which is great from a tech standpoint, as well as being a rather successful marketing technique, but it’s a nightmare to have to enter passwords everywhere all the time. Browsers like Chrome and Firefox now have helpful prompts to allow you to save your passwords. They enter them for you so you can work faster.

Additionally, there are many sites that use cookies to allow you to stay logged in for an extended period of time, so if you get up to use the bathroom or go to lunch you won’t have to come back to a timeout screen. This makes for great convenience when you are working at a familiar computer, but can be a problem at a public one.

Public Computers are like Public Transportation – Convenient but Suspiciously Dirty

When you use a public computer, you have no idea what security standards have been set for the system, who administrates it, whether they operate responsibly, the list goes on. In this case what you don’t know can hurt you. Start by making sure that when you log in, you unclick the checkbox that says stay logged in. Priority number one.

Public Computer vs. Network Workstation

If you are working with a network workstation, you have less to worry about. Network workstations are computers that have been set up by schools, universities, or libraries. The difference being required credentials to even use the computer. If you need to obtain permission to use the computer, it’s safer than your average public terminal. They more often than not won’t store any local files, data, or passwords. You should still remember to log off of a network workstation when you are finished, but you can be confident that your session will end when you want it to.

Go Incognito

If you want to take no chances, and can’t be sure that your public computer is safe to use, try the private browsing mode. Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Internet Explorer (god, you aren’t still using Internet Explorer are you?) all have private browsing modes. You can make sure at the beginning of your session that you will not have anything saved or stored by turning this on, so check your settings menu to stop saving browsing history until you are done. This is also a great way to shop online for your family/girlfriend on a shared household computer without arousing suspicion. There’s nothing worse than a spoiled surprise.

 

When you are stuck in a less than ideal situation, there is no need to panic. However, remember simple account security to protect your identity in an uncertain world. Identity theft is still prevalent, but is usually the result of carelessness on someone’s part. Don’t let that someone be you. Thanks for reading as always, and don’t forget to check back with the blog for more updates, posted every week at the Computer Fixer.

 

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer
aaron@flyingparrotcomputers.com
www.thecomputerfixer.com

 

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