In the good old days, when everyone didn’t have a small supercomputer in their pocket, for many people, the only way to access the Internet was through an Internet cafe. You come in, pay a few dollars and get a computer for a certain time.
The use of publicly available computers in the Western world is relatively rare these days. However, there is a good chance that at some point you will find yourself in a position where you need to use a public computer. Is your phone dead or stolen? Maybe you’re in another country and don’t have Wi-Fi coverage or access? At this stage, a computer in a hotel or internet cafe may seem like a lifesaver.
You may not be aware that public computers pose a significant privacy risk. So when the time comes, how can you minimize the dangers of using these innocuous looking machines?
Why are public computers risky?
First of all, let’s clarify exactly what risk these computers pose. The main problem with public computers is that they are public . With your own personal devices, you can rely on passcodes, passwords, and strong disk encryption so that no one can get your sensitive information.
On a public computer, any information you leave on the machine waits for the next user to do whatever they want. This is a real problem because with modern computing, you leave information left and right like digital dandruff. Usually not knowing about it.
Another major risk associated with these machines comes from people who have used them before the way you sat down. Not only because common, publicly available mice and keyboards are biohazards, although that’s another problem, but also because they could leave all sorts of unpleasant surprises for you.
These surprises are designed to get information from you in a variety of ways. This means that you should really only use public computers as a last resort, if it’s urgent.
Check for anything fishy
The first thing you need to do is check if anything suspicious is connected to the machine. One of the common items is a USB keylogger.
This is a USB device that sits between your keyboard and a computer and records every keystroke on that computer. The owner of the registrar will come back later to reset their logs. It will then look for email addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers.
If you see something strange connected to your computer that you don’t recognize, it’s best to go somewhere else.
Browser privacy modes they are your friends
If you are going to browse the web using a browser installed on your computer, you definitely need to switch it to privacy mode For example, in Google Chrome, this is called incognito mode.
When you browse the web from a private window, the browser does not store your information permanently. When you close the window, all of your browsing history, passwords, logins and other similar information will disappear.
However, privacy mode does not hide anything from the proxy server or ISP. So don’t visit prohibited sites. If you want to hide your internet activity on a public computer, you will need to use a VPN and possibly the Tor browser as well. However, this is a slightly different discussion.
Portable applications and live operating systems
While using privacy mode in public browsers is somewhat common sense, it’s best to avoid using any software on this computer altogether. Moreover, you can completely stop using the operating system!
The first piece of this puzzle is presented as portable applications. These are special applications that do not require installation, are standalone and run from any medium. This way, you can download portable applications to a flash drive and connect it to a public machine.
The first among them should be a portable antivirus. You can also add a portable browser and a portable office suite.
When it comes to skipping the operating system of a public machine, you can use portable virtual machine software by running a clean OS image such as Linux. This has the advantage of not requiring a reboot.
If you are allowed, you can also boot a live operating system from a flash drive or optical disc. Ensure that none of your personal information ever ends up in the permanent storage of a public computer!
Clean up after yourself
Of course, using portable applications and operating systems requires some foresight. You need to prepare your USB stick, toss it in your bag and hope you never need it. If you do find yourself in a situation where you had no choice but to use one of these computers without proper protection, you will need to do some disinfection afterwards.
You must make sure that all of your browsing history and all browsing data is deleted. You can also run a free space file shredder on your machine to ensure that deleted information cannot be recovered. Likewise, make sure you haven’t left anything in your computer’s recycle bin.
If you have had to log into any services from this public computer, we recommend that you change your passwords as soon as possible. If you haven’t already used two-factor authentication, make sure it is enabled for each service in question.
Byte is better prevention than cure
It may seem a little overdone to pay so much attention to public computer security. However, in a world of cybercrime, identity theft and more, taking these few steps can be the key to defending yourself against the harsh world of internet crime.
So get your emergency stick ready today and make sure you never get caught when you’ve already solved enough problems.