Secure Use of Computers in Public

Hi. Craig Peterson here with a blink into using computers in public.
Most people have their own computers nowadays, but we are using them more-and-more in public.
  • We are plugging our devices into random USB ports to charge them.
  • We are reading and writing our emails on smartphones, while other people are watching exactly what we’re doing
  • We share our computers at home, or sometimes on the road
  • We connect to random Wifi networks, sometimes automatically
  • We disable screensavers and lock screens
All of these practices are dangerous and can cause everything from catching a computer on fire through the loss of personal information, fines, and even jail time if your machines and data are not properly secured.
A few tips to follow when using a computer in public or using a shared computer. 
  • Shoulder-surfing is real. Keep screens private (position them away from other people). It also might be worth investing in a privacy screen to block looky-loos
  • Theft of devices is common in public places, so keep an eye on your computer and smartphone while you’re using it. Most thieves don’t realize that an encrypted device isn’t worth much on the black market
  • Don’t use shared computers for any sensitive information 
  • Use ‘private browsing’ or ‘incognito mode’ where possible 
  • Never use ‘remember me’ or ‘save information’ 
  • Clear your browsing history when you’re done
  • Delete any downloads before closing the browser. 

Tips for Securely Using Computers in Public

Avoid Using Public wi-fi Networks

  1. Public wi-fi networks are favorite places for hackers to hang out.
  2. It is safer always to use your mobile data connection to connect to the internet when you are on the go.
  3. Be extremely suspicious of wireless networks on your device that show-up with names like “Free wi-fi” or “Free Hotel wi-fi.” 
  4. A common tactic of hackers is the creation of wireless networks with fake names that mimic the hotel’s wi-fi site. They set these up to trick you to logging into these fake wi-fi sites. 
  5. If you are traveling, be sure that you know the exact name of the properties wi-fi network before attempting to log in.

Be sure your Computer is Up-dated with the latest security patches. 

  1. An up-to-date operating system helps ensure that your privacy is safe from various security threats. 
  2. Never ignore updates. I recommend setting your security patches to automatic. It is wise to wait 4-7 days after release before installing them in case there is an issue. However, automatic updates do not cover all software, so you can not solely depend on them. 

Protect Your Data

  1. You should install antivirus and malware prevention software as part of a layered security program on your device and be sure to back up your data to protect it from cyber theft.
  2. Avoid conducting banking and other confidential activities on when you are online and using a public network.
  3. If you can not assure the site is secure, then don’t take chances. It is better to do your banking transactions over the phone. 
  4. When you are online in a public area, your data is at risk from online intruders. Don’t allow observation of private information by others who are around you. 
  5. Be discrete!

Two-Factor Authentication and Strong Passwords are a Must. 

  1. If you want to be vulnerable online, use weak passwords, and you can increase your chances of being the victim of identity theft. 
  2. Use long, secure, and unique passwords and use two-factor authentication when accessing popular websites or your online email used to conduct sensitive private information. 
  3. I recommend using a password manager, specifically 1password, to store and generate secure passwords for each of the sites that require you to log in. 1Password can also automatically complete your login information for you when you visit the site and store all of your answers to your different security questions.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

  1. Never leave your laptop unattended. It does not matter if that is just for a couple of minutes in your car or a public location.
  2. Always encrypt your hard drive. It prevents access to your files if your device gets stolen. 
  3. Be sure that you activate auto-locate services (find my iPhone or find my device) before you need it. 

Judiciously Use Social Media

  1. Cybercriminals love to use Social Media platforms like Facebook, Instagram to gather personal information. 
  2. Never post your birth date, address, phone number, or other personal data on social media websites. 
  3. Set your accounts so only friends and family can see your social media feeds.

Don’t Offer Personal Info over the phone.

  1. Telephone fraud is on the rise. 
  2. Be wary if you receive a phone call from anyone asking for your personal information. 
  3. If a legitimate institution needs to contact you, they will send you a letter via snail mail.

Let Computer Security Features Assist You.

  1. Both Windows and Mac OS X include security features in their operating systems that can protect your data.
  2. By accessing the computer security settings, you can install and configure your firewall. 
  3. Using the firewall can help prevent intruders and block-out incoming traffic.

In your browser, “s” stands for security. 

  1. Check your browser address bar with the website’s name. A URL that begins with “https” indicates that the Web site is encrypted. Encryption means your search is not readable during transmission. 
  2. If the URL begins with “http,” that site is not encrypted. 
  3. You might also see a small “padlock” symbol in front of the web address, which is a good sign.