Skill Level Appropriate for all
- [Voiceover] While we'd usually prefer to use our own computer to do a task, sometimes it's not possible. If you're traveling, or end up without a computer some reason, you might find yourself using a shared computer. Whenever you're using a shared computer, keep in mind that whoever administers that computer has access to all of the data on it, and often they can observe what's going on when a user is active. Shared computers expose us to various security risks, and in this video I want to discuss those, and how to avoid, or at least limit them. Chances are, if you're using a shared computer, you'll be using a web browser.
When you do, it's a good idea, at minimum, to use the private browsing mode, both so that your browsing history won't be saved on the shared computer and that so passwords, cookies, and sessions that still exist from another user don't interfere with yours. You may need to look around in your browser to find the option for a private browsing session. Another step to consider is to clear the cache and cookies before and after you do your web browsing. If you're using a friend or family member's computer, that may not be a reasonable or polite thing to do, because they might rely on their history or stored information.
But if you're using a kiosk type of shared computer, like you find in a library or other public space, there's probably no issue with clearing out browsing activity from previous users. You'll usually find the option to clear stored browsing data in the settings for that browser. When you're using a shared computer, you should be on the lookout for indications of settings or software that might compromise your data. Of course, it's not possible to be certain you're secure on a shared computer, but look for certificate warnings in the browser, and look for suspicious or unfamiliar browser add-ins and software running on the system.
There's always a chance that there's some malicious software that can record your keystrokes or access information, so it's a good idea to limit what you do on a shared computer. Refrain from logging into services you don't absolutely need. Even if you don't use shared computers routinely, it's a very good idea to set up two-factor authentication or two-step authentication for your accounts. So even if your password is stolen, attackers would still find it difficult to access your accounts. Working with files on shared computers can be tricky. If you use a cloud file storage system like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, you'll have access to your files in a browser and have the opportunity to protect those files with the account's two-factor security.
Using cloud storage through the browser is probably the easiest way to work with files in a shared environment. It's also possible to keep files on a removable drive, like a USB thumb drive. However, these are at risk of being infected by malware if the computer you're using is also infected. If you do use a USB drive with public computers, it's a good idea to scan it for viruses and malware frequently. When you're working with files, especially on a shared system, it can be a good idea to make sure that the names of those files don't give away any information about you. Often, file names will stick around in dialogues that show recently used files, and if you put information in the file names, even if the file's gone, the information in the name might still be visible to people who use the computer later.
For example, if I wanted to create a resume for myself, I might choose to call it my-resume-2018 instead of scott-simpson-linkedin-resume, or something like that. And if I wanted to use a file to keep financial records, I'd probably call it finance-notes, or something like that, rather than using a name that reveals bank or account information. Even if I deleted that file after I printed it, the name might still show up in word processing or spreadsheet software, or in a print queue, not only sharing my name, but also my employer or my bank information.
Sometimes you can clear the list of recent documents, but the location of that setting is in a different place in different programs, and sometimes it's not available at all. When we're using shared computers, we sometimes have to give up some of the convenience of putting helpful information in the names of files. When you're done doing your work on a shared computer, be sure to take a few moments to clean up after yourself. It's polite to clean up after yourself, but it's also an important security step. You may have downloaded or created files containing personal information, or left a print job in the queue. Look around the system, in the common places, like the Downloads folder and the Desktop, and open up the printer queue to check if anything is stuck there.
Make sure you've made a copy of any files you created, if you need them, either to cloud storage or to your USB drive, and then delete the files from the shared computer and empty the trash. Make sure to explicitly log out of any online accounts you've logged into to end your session with those sites. Clear the browser's cookies and cache. Close out of the web browser completely and, if you're able to, log out of the user account. Logging out of the desktop user account can perform some additional clean up tasks. If you're able to, restarting the computer can also help. Some systems are configured to reset to a clean slate when they restart.
So far, we've seen a few tips about protecting yourself, but when you're using a shared computer, sometimes you'll need to deal with the ways that the computer owner is protecting themselves from you. Often, shared computers will offer accounts that don't have administrative access, so you can't install software. If you're just using the web, or software that's already installed on the computer, usually this isn't an issue. But if you need to use other software, it can be a problem. If you have software you need to run that isn't commonly installed on shared computers, look for portable versions of the software online that can run from a USB drive.
In addition to restricting users from installing software, some systems will run software that completely resets the state of the computer when it's restarted. You should never rely on your data remaining on a shared computer between the times when you use it. In the first place, you shouldn't leave your data on a shared computer anyway. But it's also important to know that some shared computers purge themselves of any changes and get rid of any new files when they restart. So always be sure to have the data that you need backed up somewhere you control, like your cloud drive or USB drive. When you're using a shared computer, especially in a computer lab, or a library, or something like that, be sure to follow the rules and policies for those systems.
If you have any questions, look for a lab attendant or administrator. With the popularity of smartphones and mobile devices, it's less common now that people need to use shared computers. The days of the internet cafe are going away, but many locations like libraries still offer computers and services for shared use, and it's your responsibility to use them securely to protect your accounts and information.