Some ways to protect your identity and your data on a public terminal
Public computers, like those found in cyber cafés, hold two types of risks. First, you don’t know what programs are installed on the computer; so there’s a very real danger from malicious programs like keyloggers or spyware that can capture your keystrokes to figure out passwords and other confidential information or monitor your browsing behavior. Second, over-the-shoulder peeping can enable others to find out your passwords. Moreover, you have to be extremely careful about protecting your privacy on such terminals, since you don’t know who will use the computer after you.
Here are some tips to keep yourself safe while using a computer in a cyber café (or an airport or hotel).
Always log out: While checking mail, instant messaging or using any other service that requires a username and password, remember to click ‘log out’ or ‘sign out’ when you’re done. Simply closing the browser window is not enough, because if somebody uses the same service after you, there are chances of them accessing your account. Also, don’t save your login information through options that allow automatic login. Disable such options before you logon.
Stay with the computer: While you’re browsing, you should not leave the computer unattended for any period of time. If you have to go out, log out and close all browser windows. You can start afresh when you return.
Clear history and temporary files: Internet Explorer saves pages that you’ve visited in the History folder and in Temporary Internet Files. Your passwords may also be stored in the browser if that option has been enabled on the computer that you’ve used. Therefore, before you begin browsing, do the following. Go to Tools > Internet Options in IE. Click the Content tab and then click AutoComplete. If the checkboxes for passwords are selected, deselect them. Click OK twice. After you’ve finished browsing, you should clear the History and Temporary Internet Files folders. For this, go to Tools > Internet Options again. Click the General tab and go to Temporary Internet Files. Click Delete Files and then click Delete Cookies. Then, under History, click Clear History. Wait for the process to finish before leaving the computer.
Avoid online financial transactions: You should ideally avoid online banking, shopping, or other transactions that require you to enter sensitive information like credit card or bank account details. If it is urgent and you have to do it, take the precaution of changing all your passwords as soon as you can. You should change the passwords using a more trusted computer, like at home, at a friend’s place or in office.
Be alert: Stay alert and aware of your surroundings while using a public computer. Snooping over the shoulder is an easy way of getting at your passwords; staying alert will help you avoid this.