Using public computers safely

By | April 30, 2011
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Summer is coming fast – at least here in the Northern Hemisphere – and some of us do a lot of traveling in the summer time. You may find yourself using a public computer at an Internet cafe or library. But using a public computer does not come without risks. So we’re going to give you tip to help you use a public computer more safely.


I got the idea for this tip after I read an article in a newsletter about how to use public computers safely. By the time I got done reading it I was rather confused. The article discussed things like someone peering over your shoulder, nefarious software installed on public machines (impossible unless the public computer has admin privileges for everyone), making sure you erase your Internet history and clear the cache among other things. But nowhere did the article mention using a portable browser on a USB flash drive. Using this method, the browser would run directly off of the flash drive rather than from the hard drive of the public computer. Right now Firefox, Chrome, Opera and several other Web browsers are available in portable versions (but not Internet Explorer).

Running a browser (portable version) directly off of your own flash drive keeps your data on your own flash drive, and not on the public computer. (Just don’t forget to take your flash drive with you when you’re done using the public computer.) And using Private Browsing (Firefox) or Incognito (Chrome) adds another layer of protection – since browsing in those modes doesn’t save any data at all – anywhere.

Even when taking all these precautions – we still don’t recommend you do any online banking or online shopping while using a public computer. There’s always a chance – no matter how much care you use that something could go amiss. There’s no sense taking chances. Save your online banking and online shopping for a time when you can access your own computer or laptop.

Public computers, when used judiciously, are great when you’re traveling and need to access your email or send or answer an email. They’re great for browsing the Web to looking for things to see and do when you’re traveling, and for chatting or updating your social networking accounts. We just don’t think – unless it’s an emergency – that you should use a public computer to do online banking, credit card payments or online shopping.

You can get portable versions of Firefox, Chrome and Opera (all freeware) from the following links:

Firefox:
http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/firefox_portable

Chrome
http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/google_chrome_portable

Opera
http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/opera_portable

PortableApps also offers Maxthon, Iron, and SeaMonkey browsers in portable editions too. If you’re interested in these see http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/

Also note: These portable browser are great to use from a flash drive while at home too – especially if you want to try out a different browser without installing it on your PC.

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