It happens to all of us. Perhaps we are on a coworkers computer, pulling up a file or a website for them. Or maybe we are away from home and needed to borrow a computer from a friend to send an email or retrieve some information. But there are some things you should be aware of before you get too comfortable on someone else’s machine.
You may take great care of your computer. You stay on reputable websites, have your email setup to block spam and ignore suspicious messages. You avoid downloading sites or illegal filesharing. And it has worked out for you. Your computer runs great, your information is safe, and you are not infected by malware.
Suddenly, you are on a completely different computer. You do not know where this computer has been. You certainly don’t know its entire history, or whether its owner takes the same care that you do to protect themselves on the internet.
Computer viruses and other malware behave in a way that can be analogous to real viruses and sicknesses. They spread when an infected person has contact with an uninfected one. If both parties are not careful, the pathogen can spread, infecting the previously healthy party. The best ways to avoid infection are to minimize the number of interactions you have with untrusted sources, and to make sure that any interactions with potentially infected people are conducted without exposing yourself to their disease.
Entering your private information through someone else’s computer is the technological equivalent of a blood transplant. If they have a virus: it’s going to get your information. Just like you would want any blood to be thoroughly screened for disease before it is given to you, make sure that you only input your private information (or connect your computer) with a machine you completely trust. For maximum safety, machines should be inspected regularly. Routine antivirus scans are a good habit, and if the computer begins to exhibit any signs of infection, go out of your way to have it checked by an expert. The potential losses from an infected machine vary with what you use it for, but at the very least, you are exposing yourself to the data collection systems of hackers and other malicious software creators. No matter your situation, having your data fall into the wrong hands can be disastrous. So next time you are using a shared computer, think twice before logging into one of your accounts.