There is an article in Slate that suggests that we should treat public computers like we treat public restrooms – very cautiously.
I had never made that analogy before, but I do like it.
Both public restrooms and public computers may harbor germs and viruses. Both may have been frequented in the recent past by people of dubious character and you don’t know what you might catch if you visit either one of them.
The article talks about hackers installing key logging software on hotel business center computers, thereby grabbing every keystroke you type – including userids and passwords, of course. The article is based on a US Secret Service advisory from early July 2014, so I am guessing that the Secret Service found some infected computers. Obviously, this type of attack is not limited to Hotels – schools, libraries and any other place where shared computers are available are susceptible to this kind of attack.
I know that on those rare occasions that I use public computers, I sort of touch them gingerly and would never use them for anything important – like online banking or paying bills for example.
The article says, and I would agree with it, that it is not hard to install such software on most business center computers, although it is also fairly easy to make it more difficult to do. (It is impossible to make something bullet PROOF. On the other hand, bullet RESISTANT is definitely possible). In the old days, you just stuck a wedge on the parallel port and came back later to retrieve it. Now all you do is log on to your internet connection and harvest the data.
Unfortunately, there is not the equivalent of the sheet of tissue paper to put down before you use the public computer, so beware.