Use of Computer Cafes or Public Computers has
always had the potential
for theft of personal information. We addressed this issue in a
recent interview* with our traveling Author friend, Victor K. Pryles.
This article by Doug Partridge is a case study of how he approaches
the issue of personal security when he travels. It's a great article
to include in your Library, too.
or are Public Computers Dangerous?
By Doug Partridge
© Doug Partridge - All
I admit it. I'm a bit paranoid, especially when it comes to
"public" facilities. For example, an unfamiliar public
restroom has my mind racing with thoughts of cleanliness ...
and hoping someone enters as I'm exiting (so I don't actually
have to touch anything).
The story I have to tell began two years ago while on vacation
in Mexico. Rather than enjoying my surroundings, foolishly I
felt the need to "stay connected." I found the nearest
Internet Cafe. All was well until my tranquility was suddenly
railroaded with an *overwhelming* sense of computer
As all public computers seem to be, this was a Windows
computer. From my computer security background, I knew that
Windows computers require several security tools and settings
for thorough protection against the numerous threats on the
Internet. "Out of the box," a Windows computer is not in good
So, what ripped me out of my peaceful serenity was the sudden
realization that I didn't know how many, if any, security
measures were applied to this particular computer. Really,
when using public computers, how is anyone to know how
protected they are?
Cleanliness aside, what exactly are the dangers faced when
using public computers?
Of course viruses are always a concern when using unfamiliar
computers, but if I could pick one thing to highlight above
the rest, it's Spyware. If you're unfamiliar with Spyware,
it's quickly becoming one of the most menacing threats on the
What does Spyware do? The less harmful varieties like Adware
observe your web browsing activities and based on this deliver
targeted advertising usually in the form of web pop-ups and
The more serious forms of Spyware like "keyboard loggers"
(programs that record everything you type) will sit quietly in
the background recording information about you. If you shop or
bank online, this kind of Spyware is absolutely your worst
Public Internet computers are in no way immune to this threat.
In fact, the opposite is true.
To cite but one example, I recently read an article discussing
how a hacker installed Spyware on several Internet terminals
at New York-area Kinko's. Before this Spyware was discovered,
this person managed to record over 400 account names and
passwords! He even accessed and opened bank accounts online.
OK, I had confirmation. I wasn't just "being paranoid" ... but
I now faced a dilemma.
There's no denying the convenience of public computers,
especially when away from home. However, acknowledging the
serious security risks forced me into one of two choices:
*never* use public Internet computers, or try to figure out a
"secure" way to use them.
I'll offer what I consider a secure strategy for using public
First off, there are several "high risk" activities I wouldn't
do on these computers. I would never use a public Internet
computer to do online banking, make purchases, or do anything
that involved potentially compromising financial information.
Many companies allow you to check your work email account
through a web page; again think twice before doing this on a
A Secure Strategy for
When I'm away, I use public computers for two purposes only:
1. Read favorite websites
2. Check my personal web email
To ensure my privacy and security, I do the following:
- Before I leave for my trip, I change my email password to
something else, basically anything I'll remember while I'm
- As soon as I return, I change my password to a new password,
or back to what it was prior to leaving for the trip.
What's the advantage of this strategy?
Since I don't know how secure these computers are to begin
with, I realize that I'm taking a risk by using them in the
first place. At the same time, I'm mitigating the risk by
limiting what I'll do on the computer (i.e. only check
personal email and not access any information that would
potentially reveal financial information).
In the event that my email account and "travel" password are
recorded, I've already changed the password to something else.
This strategy has worked well for me, allayed my paranoia, and
allowed me to stay in contact when away from home.
Of course, you *could* use this "strategy" for any account and
password (think banking, websites with user accounts, etc.).
My prudent paranoia just can't allow me to recommend this
strategy for anything financial.
Here's to practicing safe computing.
Doug Partridge is co-author of a new eBook,
"How to Secure
Your Computer Using Free Tools and Smart Strategies."
Finally, the step-by-step Internet security guide that
should have come with your Windows computer, but didn't.
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Victor K Pryles
I recently read a truly fascinating eBook about
saving money while traveling. The author, Victor K. Pryles, put a unique slant
on traveling cheaply, but comfortably. His eBook contains a gold mine of money
saving tips and confessions recorded during his many journeys.
As a world traveler with many visits and
trips in the United States and abroad, it seemed logical that his experience
and knowledge about staying safe would be of interest to many of us travelers,
especially in these times when notebook and lap top computers have become our
traveling companions, as well.
I was curious about how he avoided virus and spyware problems while using his
computer, especially when outside of the United States.
Computer security and safe Internet surfing
comprise the main theme of our Firewall
and Virus Protection website and
Security Alert News Reporter newsletter.
So I wrote to Victor and asked what he did to avoid computer viruses, spyware,
etc, and if he would share these experiences with us. He graciously agreed to
answer my questions in an interview.
Not only did he discuss computer safety, his answers included many tips on
maintaining personal safety and security while on the road, high seas and in
You can add the report "Online Security when Traveling in the United States
and Abroad" to your library along with Doug Partridge' s article on his
strategy for avoiding virus grief in public computer cafes.
Click to read it
DOWNLOAD it HERE
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