Think Secure | Seven tips for using computers in public areas

31 March 2010

Earlier this year, a 20-year-old student from Stanford University, USA, had her Google Gmail account hacked into by a user who was on the other side of the world. Similar cyber attacks were reported on international news and via online channels such as YouTube. To avoid the risk of compromising personal security, the University security workingr group encourages staff and students to rethink their approach to computer use. Here are seven tips for staying secure when using computers in public areas:

  • Log out of or lock your computer when stepping away, even for a moment. Forgetting to log out poses a security risk with any computer that is accessible to other people (including computers in public facilities, offices, and shared housing) because it leaves your account open to abuse. Someone could sit down at that computer and continue working from your account, doing damage to your files, retrieving personal information, or using your account to perform malicious actions. To avoid misuse by others, remember to log out of or lock your computer whenever you leave it.

  • Be careful when using USB memory devices/removable media. Check for potentially unwanted software such as viruses and malware.

  • Shutdown the computer when you have finished your work.

  • Never share passwords or passphrases. Pick strong passwords and passphrases, and keep this private. Never share your passwords or passphrases, even with friends, family, or computer support personnel.

Note: At the University of Sydney, no official communication (eg email message, phone call, or computer support consultation) will ever include a request for your Network ID passphrase.

  • Do not click random links. Do not click any link that you can't verify. To avoid viruses spread by email or instant messaging, think before you click.

  • Beware of email or attachments from unknown people, or with a strange subject line. Simply delete suspicious messages.

  • Do not download unfamiliar software off the Internet: File sharing programs such as KaZaA, appear to have useful and legitimate functions. However, most of this software is (or contains) spyware, which will damage your operating system installation, waste resources, generate pop-up ads, and report your personal information back to the company that provides the software.