Top 10 Computer Safety Tips

How to Protect Yourself - and Your Personal Information - When Using Public PCs or Wireless Networks Say you're in a library, a school or an airport, using a public computer to catch up on email or the news. Here are some simple steps to follow to protect yourself from potential predators:

1) Be Mindful of Policies - Be aware of the policies and rules regarding public computer usage at this site. They are usually posted somewhere nearby, viewable on the desktop, or available at a Help Desk. They should specify your access rights to the computer and what type of usage is considered inappropriate.

2) Beware Portable drives - Be careful using flash and other portable devices in public computers. Software exists that can load data to and from drives automatically when they are plugged in, siphoning your personal information. Drives containing personal or work data should especially not be used.

3) Watch for Shoulder Surfing - This is the method employed by passersby watching what you are doing while using a computer -- like typing in usernames and passwords. Always take a second to glance around briefly before typing in any personal information. Notebook Privacy Filters are another solution.

4) Remember the Keyloggers - These are programs that record your key strokes, or everything you type into the computer. They can very easily be loaded on public computers by other users and checked at a later time, without the computer owner even knowing. For this reason the use of credit card numbers or important login information should be avoided on public computers.

5) Clean out Your Files - Both before and after using a public computer, you should clean out the temporary internet files, history, caches, cookies and recycling bin. It is also important to clean out existing cookies before you start using the computer, so your computer usage is not recorded.

6) Carry Your own Applications - Your personal software can be carried around and used from a portable drive, including Internet browsers, instant messengers and word processing programs. This reduces the amount of information stored on the computer, though it should still be cleaned. offers a wide variety of everyday software and it's free. But again be mindful of tip #2. Apps are one thing; personal information quite another.

7) Seek out a VPN - Using a Virtual Private Network to connect to work computers or networks is safe, even from public computers. All the data traveling to and from your work system is encrypted and cannot be packet sniffed by predators. Now, re: using your own computer at a public wireless location

8) Watch out for Wireless Sniffing - Others in the area may be watching your traffic to get usernames and passwords. Banking and other sensitive web business should not be done until work or home access is available.

9) Again, Respect the Policies - Be respectful when using wireless hotspots since someone else is paying for your usage. Do not download music or videos illegally or view inappropriate websites. This is to avoid trouble and to ensure the owner of the hotspot won't be forced to shut it down.

10) Keep Your Eyes on the Prize - Unattended laptops can disappear very quickly from airports, cafes or hotel rooms. Always keep your laptop in a locked bag or drawer when possible. Cable locks, alarms and ID tags are always a good idea. Newer technologies such as biometric IDs and linking to your cell phone via Blue Tooth will lock out unknown users. If your laptop is ever stolen, you may also get it back using Absolute Software's LoJack.

About the Author

Thomas Donchez

Thomas Donchez

Contributing Writer

Thomas Donchez is a graduate of East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Security and Computer Science. Tom is currently working toward his Masters Degree in Computer Science and resides near Allentown, PA.

With a strong background in computer security and great interest in current trends, Tom enjoys writing on security related topics. His recent research includes rootkit detection and advanced steganography methods, and his thesis work relates to network traffic analysis and reporting. Tom also spent three years as an ASP.NET web developer.

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