Safety on a public computer

Are public computers at libraries, cafes, airports and copy shops safe? The answer depends on how you use them.

These tips will help keep your personal or financial information private:

Don't save your login information
Always exit a secure website by clicking "log out." It's not enough to simply close the browser window or type in another address. Many programs, especially instant messenger programs, include automatic login features that will save your user name and password. Disable this option so no one can log in using your name and password.

Don't leave the computer unattended with sensitive information on the screen.
If you need to leave the public computer, log out of all programs and close all windows that might display sensitive information.

Erase your tracks
Web browsers such as Internet Explorer keep a record of your passwords and every page you visit, even after you've closed them and logged out. To disable the feature that stores passwords, turn off the Internet Explorer feature that "remembers" your passwords before you go to the Web.

  • In Internet Explorer, click Tools, and then click Internet Options.
  • Click the Content tab, and then click AutoComplete.
  • Click to clear both check boxes having to do with passwords.
  • To delete your temporary Internet files and your history when you finish your use of a public computer, you should delete all the temporary files and your Internet history.
    • In Internet Explorer, click Tools, and then click Internet Options.
    • On the General tab, under Temporary Internet files, click Delete Files, and then click Delete Cookies.
    • Under History, click Clear History.

Watch for over-the-shoulder snoops
When you use a public computer, be on the look out for thieves who look over your shoulder or watch as you enter sensitive passwords to collect your information.

Don't enter sensitive information into a public computer
The above measures provide some protection against casual hackers who use a public computer after you have. However, an industrious thief might have installed sophisticated software on the public computer that records every keystroke and then emails that information back to the thief, in which case, it doesn't matter if you haven't saved your information or if you've erased your tracks – they still have access to this information. If you really want to be safe, avoid typing your credit card number or any other financial or otherwise sensitive information into any public computer.

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