Protect Your Privacy on the Internet

We typically do not think twice before hopping across to the nearest cyber café to check our emails or make a bank transaction. We sit peacefully at hotels and log on to our online profiles. Do you ever wonder whether it is safe to connect your laptop at a public Wi-Fi hotspot? If you had thought these scenarios are harmless, think again.

According to a report on identity fraud published by Javelin Strategy & Research in 2010, 11.1 million people were victims of identity fraud in 2009. The total amount involved in fraud was $54 billion.

Wi-Fi hotspots can allow those with malicious intent to harm public computers that are accessing the internet innocently, and perhaps unprotected.  There are programs that allow others to surreptitiously access your PC through the shared wireless hotspot.

Privacy Protection When Using a Public Computer

Here are some tips to protect your private information when you are using a public computer, such as in a hotel kiosk or a cyber café.

Login Information

Never save your login information when using public computers. Many social networking sites, instant messenger programs and web mails have an option marked ‘Remember Me’ or ‘Save My Password’. If you click on these options, your password will be saved on that system and the next user may possibly log into your account and misuse information. Disable this option, so that nobody else can login as you. Also, always log out of your session by clicking the log out option. Just closing the browser window is not enough.

Avoid Certain Tasks

Do not type any sensitive personal information when using public computers. Try to avoid using banking passwords, account numbers or any other such information which can be used for identity theft. Try and make these transactions from home or through your handheld device or over a secure network. In some cases, even encryption does not help if the system has a keylogger installed. Keyloggers can either be in software or hardwire form. They record every key stroke made on the system and makes this information available to others. Even if you delete all sensitive information, you are at risk of others being able to view this information.

Erase Your Tracks

If you can, clear all the cached information as the last step before leaving a public PC. In particular, delete all the cached webpages and cookies in the browser you have used. Also, if you have created or saved any document using a public computer make sure you erase the data before you leave the system. You could easily create a new folder on the system’s desktop and store any file you need. When you are done, permanently delete the folder by pressing the ‘Shift’ and ‘Delete’ keys. Storing all your files in one folder will help you avoid hunting for the files after you are done. However, if you have not permanently deleted the files, make sure to empty the recycle bin before you step away from the system.

Be Wary of Snoops

Be on the lookout for snoops and thieves who might be peeking over your shoulder, trying to see what you are typing. Try and choose a computer that is appropriate from the security point of view and away from other surfers.

Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Safety and Privacy

All of this convenience has a dark underbelly, though, that most people don’t pay much attention to. Public wireless can be dangerous. Due to its unsecured nature, it provides a perfect opportunity for hackers to make off with identities and raid bank accounts. By educating yourself, you can minimize the risk while still enjoying your time online.

1. Make sure your software firewall is enabled. It’s usually already enabled by default, but it’s best to make sure. In Windows, it can be found in Control Panel. For a Mac, look in System Preferences.

2. If you’re not actively using your wifi, you can disable it temporarily. Most modern laptops make it easy to do with an icon on the tool bar or a key you can press.

3. Don’t log into sensitive or important accounts from public wireless. Save your shopping and banking for when you’re on a secure connection, like DSL, encrypted wireless or cable broadband.

4. Whenever possible, avoid entering critical personal information like your name, address or social security number over an unencrypted wireless connection. With this information, someone can apply for credit cards in your name, as well as commit online crimes for which you could be charged.

5. Disable file sharing on your computer. The feature isn’t really needed unless you connect to a wireless printer, have the ability to remotely access your computer or wish to share files with other people on your network. If it’s enabled, anyone else using the wi-fi near you can view the files on your computer, edit them, or even add some.

To turn off the setting for a machine running Windows, go to Start, Control Panel, Network and Internet and then Network and Sharing Center. Click ‘Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options’, followed by ‘Change Advanced Sharing Settings’. Turn off the file and printer sharing, as well as public folder sharing.

To disable it in Mac, select ‘System Preferences’ and deselect all boxes.

6. Turn off network discovery. When using public internet, deselecting the option will keep other users from seeing your computer on the list of other machines on the network. If you’re using Windows, follow the same path for disabling file sharing. If you’re on a Mac, it will be located under Advanced Firewall Settings and is labeled Stealth Mode.

Public Computers and Internet Privacy

First, unless absolutely necessary, avoid entering any personal information on  a public computer internet browser, to include any user names or passwords, addresses, financial information, or anything else that can distinguished you from other users using that public computer.  If that is not practical, and you must enter such personal information in your course of business, or due to other needs such as the necessity of paying bills, there are still things you can do to protect yourself.

You may find yourself in a hotel room, or at an internet cafe, or a friend’s house and have the need to log on to a financial website such as your online bank or other bill pay site.  Fear not, there are still things you can do to protect your personal confidential information when using a public computer.

  1. Open the internet browser and log on to your banking site.
  2. When you are all done, make sure you log off of this website (click on the “log off” link at the top of the page).  Do not simply visit another website or simply close your browser – make sure you actually log off.
  3. After you have successfully logged off (and received the logged off message on your screen), click on TOOL in the upper right of your internet browser, then select INTERNET OPTIONS (on Microsoft Internet Explorer).  Next, click on DELETE BROWSING HISTORY (see image above for a screen shot).
  4.  Next, close-out the internet browser – do not simply visit another site, but actually close your internet browser.
  5. That’s it!  Make sure you follow all of the above steps.  You still cannot be certain what software or malware has been installed on a public use computer – use your best judgment.  If you are in  a reputable hotel in a good neighborhood, etc., you are probably in much better shape than not.  Be especially wary of using a public computer in a foreign country as most Westerners are monitored when visiting foreign countries.

Related Articles:

Steganos Locknote – This is basically nothing more than an encrypted, secure text file.  It is self-contained, with the encrypting portion build right into the text file itself.  Safe and secure – there is no installation required.  It appears as a simple text file and opens to look just like a file in notepad.  The only difference is that the contents are encrypted and secure.  You can have as many of these different “Locknotes” on your computer as you want.  A great place to secure your username and password combinations since the file is encrypted, lightweight, and no delay in loading.

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