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10 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy When Using a Public Computer


By Chris

03 December 2011

**May 19, 2011 will mark the 10-year anniversary of Apple’s retail store initiative, which began the cultural phenomenon of the ‘Apple store’ complete with gleaming displays of gorgeous Macs and shiny iPods and iPads. Against all odds, the brick and mortar stores were an advertising success for Apple, attracting flocks of the believers and uninitiated and reinforcing the aura of Apple’s cultural cachet. Today, around 332 stores and counting around the globe provide a cyber-café-like atmosphere to the shopping experience.

Go inside any Apple Store today and find throngs of people not only fawning over Apple’s goodies, but also hopping on the computers to check their e-mails and Facebook accounts. The number of visitors to Apple stores has risen steadily over the years— many drawn not only by the glitz as to the fact that it’s an easy place to check your e-mail.

Most people who log on to their personal accounts on public computers don’t think about the security risks of someone else stealing their personal data. Remember, this is not your personal computer.

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What can you do to protect your personal and confidential information? Here are 10 tips to protecting yourself— at the Apple store— and at any internet café, library, hotel, airport public computer terminal:

1.     Don’t save passwords: When you log into your e-mail, some e-mail logins like Hotmail may have the ‘Remember me’ box and/or the ‘Remember my password’ box checked. Make sure these options are NOT selected. The browser may also prompt you to save your password— make sure you decline. You do not want any personal information (userid, password, etc.) to be recorded on the public computer.

2.     Sign out: Don’t just close the browser. Click ‘Sign Out’ and log out properly from your account. Otherwise, the next person to use the computer could see and access your personal data.

3.     Don’t save any files locally: If you need to download any attachments, save them to a portable flash drive. Make sure your flash drive is encrypted to protect your data in the event you lose your portable flash drive. You can also try cloud storage sites like DropBox.

4.     Delete the cookies and browsing history: There’s no need for the next person to see where you have been on the web. Depending on the version of your browser, the instructions may be slightly different. For Firefox, go to Tools à Clear Recent History. Check all the boxes and click ‘Clear Now’. For Safari, go to Safari à Empty Cache à History à Clear History. For Internet Explorer, go to Tools à Internet Options. Under the General Tab, select ‘Clear Cookies’ and ‘Clear Files’, and then click ‘Clear History’ and ‘Apply’.

5.     Don’t leave your computer unattended: If you need to leave the computer for a moment to go to the bathroom or get another cup of coffee or whatever, always log out. Don’t leave any personal information on the screen, even for a short break.

6.     Avoid any financial transactions: If possible, wait until you get home or when you have access to a more secure computer to conduct more personal business or enter confidential information, such as credit card information, check bank accounts, etc.

7.     Create another e-mail account and forward your regular e-mail to this account: You can log on to this ‘dummy’ e-mail account and receive your forwarded e-mail. Later, you can change the password or delete this ‘dummy’ e-mail account and revert back to your regular e-mail account.

8.     Watch out for snoopers: Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder. Some people can ‘read’ by watching you type and steal private information.

9.     Do a hard reboot: This will clear everything from the physical memory (RAM) and reset the public computer back to what it was before.

10.  Keyloggers: Some computers have keyloggers installed. Keyloggers are software or hardware tools that record every keystroke you enter on the keyboard. While there are some ways to minimize this problem, they are not simple or foolproof.

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