If you’re retrieving your personal email on a public computer — such as on a PC at an airport lounge, hotel lobby or in a cybercafé — you need to take a few precautions to reduce the likelihood that someone will read what you wrote.
Unfortunately, you can never fully prevent these risks, since there are no guarantees your data is 100 percent safe. This is also the case when using your own computer at a Wi-Fi hotspot.
But if you need to use a public PC to read your email, consider these following tips before you log into your webmail account:
• Always click to “log out” of the site you’re on, whether you’re reading web mail at a site like Yahoo! or browsing a social network such as Facebook. Don’t just click the “X” to close the browser window, because this doesn’t necessarily log you out.
• When you log in, be sure not to select options like “Remember my password” or “Save my login information.” To double-check that your info hasn’t been remembered by the computer, open the site again when you’re done. It should prompt you to log in from scratch.
• Some browsers offer “private browsing,” which means they don’t leave any trace of your surfing history, cookies, passwords or other temporary Internet files. Look for this feature in the “Settings” or “Options” menu of the browser you’re using. At the very least, manually clear this data after you've finished reading your email and have logged out of the webmail service.
• Need to get up for a second? Never leave the computer unattended with sensitive info on the screen. If you must leave the PC, log out of your mail account before you get up, even if it’s just for a minute.
• Because a cybercriminal could install key-logging software — which secretly records keystrokes — on public computers, it’s a good idea not to type any sensitive information on a public computer, such as a credit card number or corporate password.
• Some security- and privacy-conscious folks carry their own USB solution that can help make browsing on a public PC safer. Examples include SurfEasy and Tails, both of which can be plugged into a PC or Mac -- be it your own computer or a communal one -- and they instantly launch a password-protected browser; your IP address is masked to prevent leaving an online trace.
• If you can, bring your own laptop, smartphone or tablet with you when you're traveling and instead of using free Wi-Fi at a hotspot, consider using your own cellular connection to connect to the Internet as it's a safer alternative.