Do’s and Don’ts of Public Computers

Traveling soon?  Keep your digital life safe by only using public computers for specific tasks.

With the fall upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, and Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, there is a good chance that many of us will be traveling.    While traveling we are prone to forget certain things, and many of these things may be digital.  Such as responding to email or printing out tickets/directions etc.

I am unsure how this is in the rest of the world, but here in the United States it is common to see computers with printers available to use at hotels and other public gathering spaces.  However, as tempting it may be to use them, you will want to avoid certain tasks when using any public PC.

Dangers of Using a Public Computer

Although they may claim to be safe and even include antivirus, you should never trust any PC that you haven’t seen all activity on.  Unattended computers can contain a huge list of security issues, with most of them boiling down to three categories.

  • Out of Date Operating System (or, OS) – As you are not in control of the PC there is no way to ensure the OS is up to date to patch all security vulnerabilities.
  • Out of Date Antivirus – Along the lines of the OS, not being in control to update the antivirus there is no reason to assume it is up to date and the system is protected.
  • Viruses/Malware – With the possibility of an out of date OS or antivirus, a number of infections could be present.  This includes nasty items such as keyloggers  and trojans that are eager to steal your data, login’s and anything else that could lead to identity theft or accounts they could drain money from or pretty much any information the malware/virus writers could turn around and sell.

Activities To Avoid on a Public PC

Considering the kind of threats that may exist on the PC you want to use, lets take a look at the activities you should avoid:

  • Logging into any account -You should assume that the credentials will be stolen if they are entered.
  • Plugging in any removable storage device – This includes camera/SD cards and USB drives as they could become infected and then infect your home devices later and possibly even the device the storage came from.
  • Looking at anything that relates to the location of your home residence – Although not directly a threat, it would be possible for thieves to look over your shoulder and find out where you are.  If not far from home it could become worth it for them or their partners to go visit the location while away.

Safe Activities on a Public PC

With all the negatives, there are still reasons to use a public PC.  Some of these include:

  • Checking the weather at your current location
  • Browsing online for local restaurants and activities at your current location.
  • Browsing any website that does not require you to login
  • Printing directions from your hotel or location to another location (excluding ones that include any personally identifiable stops such as banks or friends houses)
  • Play online games that do not require accounts or passwords (assuming in game you do not disclose any personal information)

Keep It Anonymous

So as you travel, keep these things in mind to avoid having your data or accounts stolen.  The best and shortest version of this advice is only disclose information on a public computer that you would be willing to give or ask a complete stranger.

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