How To Safely Use That Creepy Public PC

As vacation season goes into full swing, chances are you will end up using a public computer for internet access. If you’ve left your Macbook at home, that public computer has a 99.9% chance of being a PC. Like using a public toilet seat, this PC gives the security minded user that same creepy feeling. While most will just happily type in usernames and passwords for their banks, email and everything else, this is big risk with public PCs. Has it been updated? Is it running Anti-Virus software? Is it infested with keyloggers and browser hijacks? You just don’t know.. Here’s what you can do to minimize the risk.

1. Get a USB Flash Drive if you don’t already have one. 1GB is a decent size.

2. Download and install the following applications onto your flash drive:
Portable FireFox for private internet browsing.
Portable Thunderbird for private email.
Portable Pidgin for private instant messaging.
– Neo’s Safe Keys for entering passwords. (keylogger protection)
Sumatra PDF Portable if you need to view PDF files.
Portable Open Office or Portable AbiWord if you need to work on office documents.
Truecrypt for file encryption.

Note: There is a whole suite of Portable Apps to securely use any other applications you need to use. View their Applications Page for a list or just download the entire suite.

Also Note: Since these applications are Windows Apps, you will have to set them up in Boot Camp, Parallels or VMWare if you need. (Creating accounts in Portable Thunderbird, Pidgin, etc)

3. Prepare a TrueCrypt image for holding any personal files. This is to ensure that nothing personal gets compromised if your USB Drive becomes lost or stolen. Download the OS X version to create this image.

Note: Your file encryption depends on a very strong password so choose your password wisely. You may also wish to change any bank or email passwords that you would use to a special “vacation” password which you would change back after you return.

4. When you get to the public PC, put your USB drive into the computer and use the portable apps. If you need to enter usernames and passwords, use Neo’s Safe Keys.

5. If you are truly paranoid you can download and install Portable Wireshark to look for any suspicious traffic being sent out of the public PC. (For Advanced Users)

Note: If you are really this paranoid, save yourself the hassle – just bring your MacBook, PDA, iPhone or iPod Touch. Use a VPN Service provider like Relakks for a secure network connection.

If for any reason you don’t feel right using that public PC, don’t enter any personal information. Is it worth the effort of fighting identity theft just because you had to check an account while on vacation? If you need to track any financial information, I’d recommend using the old fashioned pen and paper method.

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