The Dangers of Public Computers

The Dangers of Public Computers

June 20th, 2014 by Christopher C. Wright

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Even in Petaluma publicly-accessible computers are everywhere, from kiosks at the mall to hotel lobbies businesses are increasingly providing free access to their patrons. As a business owner who values your information and clients’ privacy it is imperative that you exercise caution when you use a public computer for even the most mundane of tasks.

Computers accessible to the public can be host to dozens of vulnerabilities, both installed by malicious criminals and by helpful employees trying to help the customer. Many of these attacks have vicious-sounding names like SSL Spoofing or Man in the Middle, and deserve all of the bad publicity they get — every year businesses across the world are being attacked and often the entry vector is a single username typed into an infected computer.

The rising danger of public computers has even made national news, echoing statements by well-respected security researchers like Bruce Schneier and Brian Krebs, who have long warned against their use for business use.

How are Public Computers Vulnerable?

Unlike your office network where your IT administrator should regularly audit the software in use, often kiosks and business centers are not managed by experienced and security-conscious professionals. With infrequent proactive scans and often misconfigured software installs, criminals can easily inject their own software and settings into the workstation, giving them complete access to the information any future user accesses.

  • Keyloggers record every keystroke and often mouse movement, giving the criminal full access to your usernames and passwords. Access to banking or email information is an enormous target, and often the gateway to more serious attacks.
  • Man-in-the-Middle attacks bypass the powerful encryption methods used by banks and other secure online services to keep your information safe from online eavesdroppers. By acting as a middle-man they are able to see both your traffic and the information sent by your bank, giving them unprecedented access to your financial and communication information.

How to Protect Yourself

There is a very simple rule for keeping safe against the many vulnerabilities that can be found on computers open to the public — do not use them for sensitive information. Essentially anything you for which you have a username and password, including your email, makes for a target. Criminals won’t care that you browsed CNN or the latest in Yahoo! News, but will be highly interested in the personal details of your many online accounts. Most often today the majority of your banking, email, and private communication can be done via your phone (learn how to protect your phone here); in those rare instances you must log in to your email to print out a boarding pass or other important documentation, ask the hotel staff if you can forward it to a company account and have them print it out from the front desk. Their corporate network is much more likely than their public kiosks to be well-secured, and that way you do not put any of your information at risk.

When in doubt don’t subject yourself to the dangers of public computers. If you offer public computers at your place of business, make sure you have a competent, security-conscious administrator such as MSMB Networks regularly maintaining them and keeping your guests safe.

Call us today for your security audit where we will provide you helpful information and best practices to secure your desktops against these attacks! 415.462.6297

MSMB Networks — Your IT Professionals!

Christopher C. Wright is the CTO of MSMB Networks, focusing on network and system administration, upgrade planning, disaster recovery, and IT budget analysis in Petaluma and all over Sonoma and Marin Counties. With more than fifteen years of hands-on experience, he is committed to educating and protecting his clients, ensuring they receive the best individualized support possible. Email him at

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