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Public-access computer safety

Public-access computer safety

by Mr. Modem; Posted by Catherine Holland

azfamily.com

Posted on August 6, 2010 at 8:26 PM

Q. When I travel, I use computers at Internet kiosks, libraries, and similar places to check email, pay bills, etc. As a security measure, I use a USB flash drive for my data, thinking that this is the best and safest way to use public-access computers. Am I doing the right thing and playing it safe?

A. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but as a general proposition, there is really nothing you can do to make a public-access computer truly secure. For example, there are hardware- and software-based keystroke loggers that are invisible to any user. As the name implies, keystroke loggers capture every keystroke entered on a computer’s keyboard, including passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, names, addresses, Social Security numbers, messages, URLs, etc. You would have no way of knowing of the existence of such a device.

To play it safe, if you must use a public computer of the type you describe, avoid entering passwords or login information; don’t type in any personal information, don't purchase anything or conduct any financial transactions. If you check email, just keep in mind that you will be entering your username and password. As a practical matter, I avoid using public-access computers, if at all possible.

Having said all that, most public-access computers located within reputable establishments such as libraries, private venues such as airline frequent-flyer lounges, mainstream hotel and motel chains, etc. are safe, but there are absolutely no guarantees, so caution is well advised.

Q. I know you’ve covered this before, Mr. M., but I’ve forgotten how I can determine how much space I have left on my computer’s hard drive. As I recall, it’s shown in a diagram with pink and blue inside of it. Thanks very much.

A. You’re correct; pink for free space, blue for used space. To view this colorful pie chart, go to Computer (or My Computer, depending on the version of Windows you're using) then right-click the drive you wish to check (usually the C: drive) and select Properties. That will display information about the drive, including the amount of free and used space.

Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week:

Gallery of Obscure Patents
Explore this fascinating gallery of bizarre but genuine patented inventions, including the Inflatable Rug, the Bird Diaper, and the always popular Body Squeegee. After visiting this collection of ingeniously obscure patents, you can cast your vote for your favorite invention. Be sure to click into the Gallery of Historic Patents (www.delphion.com/historic) to view historical and occasionally hysterical patents while visiting.
www.delphion.com/gallery

The Pay Phone Project
Remember the good old days before cell phones, when you carried change in your pocket just in case you needed to stop and use a pay phone? (Younger readers will have no idea what I'm talking about.) The Pay Phone Project is a quasi-nostalgic site that has photographs, news, stories, and actual phone numbers of telephone booths and pay phones worldwide, just in case you want to place a call.
www.payphone-project.com

Rminder
You may have tried to organize your busy life by using a day planner or a PDA, (Personal Digital Assistant), but those methods aren’t always effective. With Rminder (somebody apparently forgot the “e”), you can receive voice and text reminders on your phone. A free account allows you to send eight reminders per month, with a weekly limit of two. As you upgrade your account, more reminders are permitted, up to a maximum of 60 reminders for $9 per month. Creating a reminder is as easy as typing what you want the reminder to say, scheduling the call, then entering the phone number. The phone will ring when scheduled, and you’ll hear the reminder that you created, thanks to text-to-speech technology.
www.rminder.com

For plain-English answers to your questions by email, plus helpful PC tips, subscribe to Mr. Modem’s Weekly Newsletter. For information, visit www.MrModem.com.

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