Tips on how to stay safe on public computers

Public computers are the ones that are used by more than one user and do not often belong to the user. An example of public computers are the one’s at Internet Cafe’s. Even computers at your office can be categorized as public computers as you are not the only person using them, although you may have your own login credentials. You have to stay safe when using public computers because a slight mistake might result in hacking of your accounts or data being stolen. Here are some tips to stay safe on public computers.

How  to stay safe on public computers

stay safe on public computers

When on public computers, you do not know what software is installed on the machine. Though you can browse through the program files, there may be spyware or keyloggers installed. If the owner of the Internet Café is unscrupulous, he could install a keylogger to spy on his customers. He could read chats emails and even sensitive data for that matter. If you have to use them, be very careful about what data you are sending over using those machines and what Digital Footprints you are leaving behind. Here are some of the must-follow practices while using public computers.

1. Log out Properly

More than often, we simply close the window out of habit. The next person who happens to open the URL/site, will automatically be directed to your account – whatever it is. Then, you are totally dependent on the mercy of the person who accessed your account. There are high chances of the person messing up with your account – social, commercial or office accounts.

Always remember to log out properly after the session is over. If you are using Facebook, for example, see that the Remember Me button is not checked. Several sites have such buttons. Make sure it is unchecked before logging in. After the session, log out and close the window.

2. Do not save information to local disk

Use your own pen drive to download information files you want. You should never download anything to the local hard disk when on public computers. Much worse than downloading anything to such computers is forgetting to remove them before walking away. Even if you do delete them, they will land in the Recycle Bin, and would be easily retrievable. And even if you do empty the Recycle Bin, there are always ways one can retrieve the deleted files.

Always carry a pen drive when going to use public computers. If you need to download data or information files, save them to the pen drive and never on the local hard disks. Alternatively, if you have to store information and if you do not have a pen drive, you can email them as attachments to your own email ID so that you can get back to them later. And after sending the email, delete those information files that you saved to local disk.

In the eventuality that you have to download anything to the local disk, and you have forgotten to get your own pen drive, make sure you have deleted all those files and emptied the Recycle Bin, to say the least.

3. Delete browsing tracks

There is InPrivate or Incognito mode in browsers that makes sure nothing is stored on local disks. You can use it while browsing the Internet. That way, no history of URLs you visited nor will any cookies be stored on the local device after you close the browser. If you forgot to use Incognito mode, you may delete the browsing history personally using the Tools option in the browser. All browsers have a setting that enables you to delete the browsing history and cookies. People using the same computer after you, cannot tell what you were doing.

Another good method is to use your own portable browser on a pen drive. There are some good portable browsers such as TOR (The Onion Router). Though a bit slow, it won’t leave any tracks of what you were doing on the Internet.

If it is not a wired connection, but WiFi, you are at a greater risk, as the dangers of using a Public or Free WiFi are much higher. You need to protect yourself much more against hackers who may hijack your data connections to know what you are doing. All they need is a simple device that is easily available on the Internet and elsewhere. Read our article on how to stay safe when on public WiFi.

4. Sensitive Data

I would not recommend shopping on public computers as you do not know what all things the computer is capturing. Likewise, do not send any sensitive data using public computers. It would be better to prepare the data files beforehand on a personal computer and then send it directly as an attachment to avoid any keyloggers. Another method is to write the information using hand, getting it scanned at the café and sending it over with an email as an attachment.

There is no guarantee that the public computer you are using is totally clean as mentioned in the beginning of the article. You have to be very careful about what you are sharing when working on a public computer.

5. Avoid being snooped on

Snooping can be done when you left the public computer unlocked for a smoke or something else. Or it can be someone who is standing behind you. If you sense someone is looking over your shoulders, press WinKey+D to hide all the windows and show the desktop. When you are leaving a computer momentarily, do not forget to lock it by pressing WinKey+L. Make sure it has a password protection by moving the mouse or hitting the spacebar to unlock. You can always ask the café owner to type in the password for you. The best idea is to close all the active windows and clear browsing history before you leave the computer even temporarily. Leave the computer mid-session only if it is too necessary.

Now read: Stay Safe Online & Protect Personal Information While Browsing.

Stay safe!

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Anand Khanse is the Admin of, a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows (2006-16) & a Windows Insider MVP. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.