It's 3.30 p.m. and you're enjoying a much needed couple of days off ahead of the long weekend. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and life just couldn't be better. Then, suddenly, it hits you: you haven't sent that all-important email to your boss. Ignore it and it will nag away until it fills those precious days off with irritation. You're in the middle of the city with no laptop and little charge left on your smart phone - how are you going to sort this situation?
It's at times like these when the internet cafe can appear a practical godsend. With one sure to be located within a short hop, it's walk in, sit down, switch on, get into your emails and away you go. It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But just how secure are internet cafes? And, more importantly, how safe is your information going to be?
Recent research has revealed that a whole host of sensitive information has been found on public computers, including care worker documents containing the names, home addresses and disabilities of vulnerable people, confidential government information, details of child models used by a department store for in-store advertising and private legal documents belonging to a celebrity. A number of passports, bank statements, plane boarding passes, visa applications and insurance claims were also found[i]. While finding confidential details of your favorite celebrity may seem like an ideal situation, imagine if this were your information passing into the hands of a complete stranger?
With the relaxed environment the internet cafe provides, you might be fooled into thinking that the PC is just as secure as your home computer. If used incorrectly, however, and without taking the right precautions, this could not be further from the truth.
With identity theft rife and information seemingly haemorrhaging out of businesses, we must all take responsibility to ensure that the information we hold, whether personal or belonging to our employer, is kept safe and not left on a public computer to pass readily into the wrong hands. Sending that email to your boss doesn't seem so innocent now, does it?
We must all manage personal and business information securely. The key before logging on to a public computer is "information responsibility". With all the technology available and the myriad of ways in which we can communicate, it's easy to forget about information risk.
1. Start by being aware of your surroundings. In essence, the people around you are strangers. Do you really want to risk them viewing sensitive information on screen risk them seeing inputting log-in details when you're online? Stay alert.
2. Various websites may ask you to save information for ease of access on a subsequent occasion. For example, the log in screen for your email account loads up on the screen and you input your password as usual. But this is no usual environment. You must ensure that your password is not saved for your computer successor to enjoy after you. Make sure that the 'save password' option is unchecked.
3. Do not enter your credit card information or bank online on a public computer. This may be completely safe on your personal computer but remember, the computer you are on now is used by hundreds of strangers throughout the day, some of them may have malicious intentions. Don't risk your credit card details being stolen and your bank account compromised; find a secure location.
4. Using third-party hardware to carry out work suggests you haven't been given the right tools in the first place. Stop and have a conversation with your organisation about the resources you are supplied with. Are the mobile devices you carry around for work encrypted, so that no one else can gain access if the device were lost or stolen? Make sure that you save any documents on devices that only you have access to so they stay out of the hands of a cyber-thief.
5. When you're done with the public computer, the key is delete, delete, delete. Temporary files, documents, cookies and browsing history and any other files or settings that you may have configured. Ask yourself this - has the computer been wiped clean of your very existence?
Before you log on to that public computer, think twice and ask yourself whether you are being wholly responsible with the information you're about to share. If you're forced to ask this question you might be in the wrong place. Think about it; you might do better to face a grumpy boss at the end of your time off than expose sensitive company information to total strangers.
[i] Research conducted by The Sunday Times, 20 May 2013