Dont Save Your Passwords on a Public Computer

By: Robert Barcus

Recently, I took a look at my laptop computer to see how other people use the system when I'm not watching. It's not really a "public computer" but my friends do tend to congregate around one system or another when the visit my home or when I visit theirs. After examining the laptop, I came to realize that people tend to freely give up their passwords when using browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer. Many web browsers have a feature that allows you to store your usernames and passwords on the system. But, many people tend to forget that they should never save their usernames and passwords on public computers.

The Problem with Public Computers

A true public computer is one that you would find in a library, mall, hotel, or airport. They are generally used by people to check up on their email when they are on-the-go or just to browse the internet. The problem with a public computer is that they are used by everyone - the good guys and the bad guys. Public computers are a welcome convenience for many people, however there are some security risks when using a public computer that you should be aware of before you use one.

Saved Passwords: This is the main problem that actually got me started on writing this article. I noticed that several of my friends had inadvertently saved their passwords to my laptop when they were using the system. I have password saving turned on in Firefox, but have it disabled in Internet Explorer. I went through the saved passwords in Firefox and noticed that I had just about everybody's usernames and passwords for common websites such as MySpace and Facebook.

Keyloggers: There are many unscrupulous people out there. Even if you don't save your password on a public computer, they can still get your password using a keylogger. Although far less common, it does happen. A friend of mine in Texas had his World of Warcraft account cracked into and later discovered that he had a keylogger installed on his computer. He has since taken extra steps to prevent that from happening again. Keyloggers record every keystroke on a computer system - usernames, passwords, IM conversations, documents, and basically everything else.

Prying Eyes: I'm sure you've all seen the commercials on TV with McGruff the Crime Dog and the people getting their credit card information stolen at the store. The same thing can be true for public computers - that guy standing behind you may be looking over your shoulder as you type in your personal information. A cell phone camera can record your keystrokes just as easily as a keylogger.

Failing to Logout: When you walk away from a computer, you may leave up several browser windows - but it only takes one for someone to gain access to your personal accounts and extract your information. Just walking away from a computer for a couple of minutes can give someone enough time to gain access to your personal information. For example, you could be sitting at a library computer and need to print off an email you received from a family member. While you're walking over to the technology desk to pick up your paper, someone could easily sit down and gain access to your account.

Be Safe on Public Computers

The best advise I can give someone when using a public computer is plain and simple -

Don't use a public computer!

However, there are circumstances that may require you to use one despite my best efforts to keep from using one. These same rules can apply when you're using a friends computer or a computer at work.

Don't Save Passwords: Don't save your passwords on a public computer. You're just asking for trouble if you do.

Don't Type in Passwords: To prevent from getting burned by a keylogger, don't use a public computer to access secure websites.

Watch Around You: If somebody seems a little shady, then they probably are. Don't allow someone to see what you're typing into the computer.

Logout and Close the Browser: If you did login to a secure website, make sure that you logout of the website and then close the browser.

A Word on Saved IM Logs

Most people don't even realize it, but many instant messaging (IM) programs have a feature that saves each and every conversation you have with your friends. IM logs are used in all of the common IM programs such as Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, and AOL Instant Messanger. You can turn these logs on and off, but you should be aware that your conversations are recorded, just like with a keylogger. When using a public computer, don't use an IM program or else you could compromise your personal conversations.

Change Your Passwords

After using a public computer, change your passwords in case your information has been compromised. Also, don't use simple passwords such as "123456" or "password". PC Magazine released its Top 10 Most Common Passwords and oddly enough, many people still continue to use these passwords. If you're using a password from that list, I suggest you choose another one that is not on the list.

Security
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Security
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles