How to Stay Safe While Using Public Computers

  
By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 03/13/23 •  15 min read
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Public computers are often used by multiple people, which makes them more vulnerable to security breaches. In this article, I will provide you with practical tips on how to securely access public computers, protect your personal information, stay safe while using public Wi-Fi, and prevent malware from infecting public computers.

How to Securely Access Public Computers

When accessing public computers, it’s important to take precautions to ensure that your personal information stays secure. One of the best ways to do this is by using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your internet connection. You should also disable file and printer sharing and use a private browsing window to ensure that no personal information is saved.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

When using public computers, it’s important to take precautions to protect your personal information. One of the best ways to do this is by using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your internet connection. A VPN provides a secure tunnel for your internet traffic, which makes it much more difficult for anyone to intercept your data or access your personal information.

By using a VPN, you can be sure that your data is protected, even when using a public computer. Additionally, many VPNs offer additional features like malware protection and ad-blocking, which can further enhance your online security.

One example of a computer being hacked into on a public computer is when hackers used one worker’s login information to penetrate the Law Department’s network after officials failed to implement a simple security measure.

You can read more about this incident at The New York Times.

Disable File and Printer Sharing

Another important step in securing public computers is to disable file and printer sharing. When file and printer sharing is enabled, anyone on the same network can access your files and printer, which can put your personal information at risk.

To disable file and printer sharing, go to the network settings on the public computer and turn off the sharing options. This will ensure that only you can access your files and printer, and prevent unauthorized access from other users on the same network.

Use a Private Browsing Window

Using a private browsing window is another effective way to protect your personal information while using public computers. Private browsing mode prevents your browsing history, cookies, and other personal data from being saved on the computer you are using. This means that no one can access your personal information even if they gain access to the computer.

Note however, that private browsing mode only protects your data from being saved on the computer you are using, and does not provide additional security against cyber attacks or other threats.

Use Two-Factor Authentication when Logging into Accounts

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your accounts by requiring a second form of identification, such as a code sent to your phone or a fingerprint scan. By using two-factor authentication, you can be sure that only you can access your accounts, even if someone else gains access to your login credentials.

Many websites and services offer two-factor authentication as an optional feature, and it’s highly recommended that you enable it wherever possible.

What are the Potential Risks of not Securing Public Computers?

Not securing public computers can put your personal information at risk. When using public computers, cybercriminals can easily access your personal information, including login credentials, financial information, and other sensitive data. They can then use this information to steal your identity, access your bank accounts, and cause other problems.

Additionally, cybercriminals can install malware on public computers, which can then infect your personal device when you connect to it. This can be costly to remove and cause damage to your device. By not securing public computers, you are putting yourself at risk for these and other potential threats.

How to Protect Your Personal Information While Using Public Computers

When using public computers, it’s important to take steps to protect your personal information. This is because public computers are often used by multiple people, which makes them more vulnerable to security breaches. In this section, I will provide you with practical tips on how to protect your personal information while using public computers.

Never Save your Login Credentials on Public Computers

One of the most important steps in protecting your personal information on public computers is to never save your login credentials. This includes usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information. Saving your login credentials on a public computer can make it easy for someone else to access your accounts, even after you have logged out. It’s always best to enter your login credentials each time you access an account on a public computer.

This tip sounds like a no-brainer, but the more familiar someone becomes with a location, be it the public library, or a local coffee shop, the more likely they are to allow the browser to save their login credentials to a given site. People think, “What are the odds of someone visiting *this* site of all the sites on the internet?

Clear your Browsing History and Cache after Using a Public Computer

Clearing your browsing history and cache after using a public computer is closely releated to being sure never to save your login credentials. By clearing your browser history and cache from your broswer session, you ensure that the next user to sit at the computer is not able to track what websites you have been visiting. Why would they want that? Because all one has to do is piece together the puzzle pieces of your life to take over your identity.

Your browsing history and cache can contain sensitive information, such as your login credentials and browsing habits. To clear your browsing history and cache, simply go to the settings menu in your browser and select the option to clear your browsing data. This will ensure that no one can access your personal information from the public computer.

Avoid Accessing Sensitive Information

It’s always best to avoid accessing sensitive information, such as banking or healthcare records, on public computers.

Would you hold a wad of cash in open view while walking down a ghetto street in New York City? Of course, not. Why? Because doing so would be the same ask announcing out loud, “Please mug me!” The same applies when accessing sensitive information on a computer that can be accessed by the public, even if you trust the coffee shop or your local public library.

Public computers can be more vulnerable to security breaches, and you never know who may be watching or accessing the computer after you. If you must access sensitive information on a public computer, be sure to take extra precautions, such as using a VPN and clearing your browsing history and cache after use.

Use Temporary Email Addresses for Online Forms and Sign-Ups

Using a temporary email address for online forms and sign-ups is a good way to protect your personal information while using public computers. This is because many online forms and sign-ups require an email address, which can then be used to send spam and other unwanted messages. When you use a temporary email address, you can avoid receiving these messages and protect your personal information from being used for malicious purposes.

How can Cybercriminals use Personal Information Obtained from Public Computers?

When you use a public computer, any information you enter can be captured by cybercriminals who are monitoring the network. This can include your login credentials, credit card information, and other sensitive data. Cybercriminals can use this information to steal your identity, access your bank accounts, and cause all sorts of problems. They can also install malware on the public computer, which can then infect your personal device when you connect to it. This malware can be used to steal your personal information, damage your device, and cause other problems.

Once your personal information is sold on the dark web, it can be used by other cybercriminals to commit identity theft and other fraudulent activities.

In addition to stealing your personal information, cybercriminals can also sell this information on the dark web. This can include everything from your name and address to your login credentials and credit card information.

How to Stay Safe While Using Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi can be a convenient way to stay connected when on the go, but it can also put your personal information at risk. When using public Wi-Fi, cybercriminals can intercept your data and access your personal information, including your login credentials and financial information. In this section, I will provide you with practical tips on how to stay safe while using public Wi-Fi.

Verify the Wi-Fi Network Before Connecting to it

Verifying the Wi-Fi network before connecting to it is an important step in staying safe while using public Wi-Fi. This is because cybercriminals often create fake Wi-Fi networks in public places, which can be used to steal your personal information. To avoid this, always verify the Wi-Fi network name with the establishment you are in, and double-check that the network is secure before connecting to it.

You can check to see if the network is secure by simply asking the owner of the establishment that you are visiting, and if can’t answer this with confidence, or if they don’t know, you have your answer. Do NOT log onto the network. Instead, you can connect to the internet via HotSpot from your cell phone. This will help ensure that you are connecting to a legitimate Wi-Fi network and not putting your personal information at risk.

Use a VPN to Encrypt your Internet Connection

As we have already discussed earlier in this article, using a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the most effective ways to stay safe while using public Wi-Fi. A VPN encrypts your internet connection, making it much more difficult for anyone to intercept your data or access your personal information. When using public Wi-Fi, always use a VPN to ensure that your personal information stays secure. Additionally, many VPNs offer additional features like malware protection and ad-blocking, which can further enhance your online security.

Disable Automatic Wi-Fi Connections

Disabling automatic Wi-Fi connections is a crucial step in staying safe while using public Wi-Fi. When the automatic Wi-Fi connection setting on your device is turned on, it can connect you to unsecured networks without your knowledge, which can put your personal information at risk. Once connected to an unsecured network, cybercriminals can intercept your data and gain access to your personal information, including login credentials and financial information. To avoid this, always turn off the automatic Wi-Fi connection setting on your device and only connect to networks that you have verified and deemed to be safe.

It’s important to note that even if a network appears to be secure, it may still be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Therefore, it’s essential to take additional precautions to ensure your safety while using public Wi-Fi. Using a VPN will encrypt your internet connection, making it much more difficult for anyone to intercept your data or access your personal information.

How can Cybercriminals use Unsecured Public Wi-Fi Networks to Access Personal Information?

Unsecured public Wi-Fi networks can be used by cybercriminals to intercept your data and access your personal information. This can include everything from your login credentials to your financial information. Cybercriminals can then use this information to steal your identity, access your bank accounts, and cause all sorts of problems.

Cybercriminals are just that, thieves. They will do whatever they can to get your personal information. It is very common for them to install malware on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, which can then infect your personal device when you connect to it. Therefore, take these steps to protect yourself while using public Wi-Fi.

How to Protect Yourself from Malware on Public Computers

Malware is a serious threat when using public computers, as cybercriminals can easily infect these machines with malicious software. Malware can be used to steal your personal information, damage your device, and cause a host of other problems. In this section, I will provide you with practical tips on how to protect yourself from malware on public computers.

What is Malware and How can it Harm your Personal Information?

Malware is a type of malicious software that is designed to damage or disrupt computer systems. Malware can harm your personal information by stealing login credentials, financial information, and other sensitive data. Additionally, malware can be used to install other types of malicious software, such as ransomware, which can lock you out of your device and demand payment for access. Malware infections can be costly and time-consuming to remove, so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from malware on public computers.

Malwarebytes is a popular and effective antivirus software that can help protect your personal information from malware on public computers.

Malwarebytes uses advanced technology to detect and remove malware, spyware, and other threats in real-time, helping to prevent your personal information from being stolen. With its user-friendly interface and comprehensive protection, Malwarebytes is a top choice for anyone looking to stay safe while using public computers. You can download Malwarebytes for free from their official website: https://www.malwarebytes.com/.

Avoid Downloading and Installing Software on Public Computers

One of the best ways to protect yourself from malware on public computers is to avoid downloading and installing software. This is because many public computers may already be infected with malware, and downloading and installing software can make it easier for the malware to spread. Additionally, downloading and installing software can put your personal information at risk, as cybercriminals can use this as a way to install malware on your personal device.

Use Antivirus Software to Protect Against Malware

Using antivirus software is another important step in protecting yourself from malware on public computers. Antivirus software can detect and remove malware, as well as protect your device from future infections. Be sure to keep your antivirus software up to date and perform regular scans to ensure that your device stays protected.

If the computer you are using does not already have antivirus software installed on the computer, walk away. Find another solution. It’s not worth the risk.

Be Cautious when Opening Email Attachments or Clicking on Links

Being cautious when opening email attachments or clicking on links is another important step in protecting yourself from malware on public computers. Cybercriminals often use email attachments and links to spread malware, so it’s important to only open attachments and click on links from trusted sources. If you receive an email that seems suspicious, do not open any attachments or click on any links.

Use a Browser extension to block ads and pop-ups

Using a browser extension to block ads and pop-ups can help prevent malware infections on public computers. Ads and pop-ups are often used by cybercriminals to spread malware, so it’s important to block them whenever possible. There are many browser extensions available that can block ads and pop-ups, and many of them are free. Below are 3 very popular ad blockers you may want to consider.

  1. AdBlock: AdBlock is a free browser extension that blocks ads on all major web browsers, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. It’s one of the most popular ad blockers available and has been downloaded over 200 million times. You can download it at https://getadblock.com/.
  2. uBlock Origin: uBlock Origin is a free and open-source ad blocker that is available on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. It’s known for its ability to block ads without slowing down your browsing experience. You can download it at https://ublockorigin.com/.
  3. AdGuard: AdGuard is a free ad blocker that is available on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. It not only blocks ads, but also blocks trackers and protects your privacy while browsing the web. You can download it at https://adguard.com/.

Closing Thoughts

Staying safe while using public computers is of utmost importance in protecting your personal information from cybercriminals. Throughout this article, we have provided practical tips on how to protect your personal information while using public computers, including using a VPN, disabling automatic Wi-Fi connections, and avoiding accessing sensitive information. Additionally, we have highlighted the potential risks associated with using public computers and explained how cybercriminals can use personal information obtained from public computers. By following the tips provided in this article, you can reduce the risks associated with using public computers and keep your personal information safe.

Remember, the consequences of not securing public computers can be dire, including identity theft, financial loss, and other serious problems. That’s why it’s so important to take steps to protect yourself and your personal information whenever you use a public computer. By reiterating the importance of staying safe while using public computers and encouraging readers to follow the tips provided in this article, we hope to empower readers to take control of their online security and protect their personal information. So, stay safe out there and be sure to implement these tips whenever you use a public computer.

Tim Chesonis

Tim loves writing to help people succeed. He loves tech, Linux, his iPhone and iPad. When he's not writing another article, he's probably binge-watching “The Middle” or “Breaking Bad”, (again). To learn more about Tim, click here.