Do you go the public library when you need to do some extra research? Have one laptop that gets used by everyone in the family as they need it? Ever borrow a friend’s device to look something up in a pinch? Share a desktop computer with the person who works the night shift at your station?
We all use shared or public computers sometimes. It wouldn’t be reasonable or safe to bring our personal devices everywhere we go.
It’s not altogether safe to use a shared or public computer either! You can, however, mitigate the risks.
Why Can’t I Share a Computer?
When you use a computer that you don’t own, it means that someone else is the system administrator. That gives them the ability to access and manage your files or browser history there. Have you ever tried to move or a delete a file and seen a popup saying something like, Only Administrators can edit this file?
Public and shared computers are similar to public WiFi in that it is also easier for other users, even if they aren’t the admin, to potentially spy on your activity as well.
You have no idea who the other users are, or what they’re up to. Threat actors will compromise public devices (and even USB cords and power cables!) to automatically infect other accounts or systems that use it.
These are just a few of the ways that shared computers can harm your data. Maybe you think that doesn’t apply to you, because you share it with your best friend or your tight-knit family. However, you should still take extra precaution because your files are at risk if any of them get hacked, too. Your ten-year-old could get catfished on their video game and open the door for everyone’s files to be stolen, or your spouse could accidentally let in ransomware that erases everything. The more people who have access to your device, the more targets there are for cybercriminals.
How Can I Protect Myself on a Shared Computer?
Since we already know it’s inevitable that we all use shared and public devices sometimes, we can take steps to be more careful. Understand that they are NOT as secure as, say, your work computer might be with its expensive antivirus software and a whole department dedicated to scanning for network abnormalities.
- Always LOG OUT when you’re done using a public or shared computer
- NEVER log into sensitive accounts, like your bank account, to prevent other users from spying on your accounts or activity
- Don’t allow the computer to remember any log-in information or personally identifiable information (PII)
- Don’t connect your IoT devices to shared computers or public charging cords either; these could be secretly infected with malware by another user
- Use private browsers to clear your search and browsing history when you close out
We can’t always help using public and shared devices to go online, but we can make sure we take precautions to make our browsing a little more private. Even those we love and trust can make mistakes and put our private data at risk when you all use the same device.
Together, we can ward off threat actors and keep our networks and systems safe!