Managing Your Documents: Using Public Computers

Use extra care when working from computers that are available to the public

  This page is part of a series intended to help you work productively in a variety of situations.


No expectation of privacy

Public computers open a variety of risks for security and privacy, through both accidental and malicious actions. 
  • Avoid accessing sensitive information on public computers. Assume that any information you view or type on a public computer is vulnerable to disclosure to others.
  • Be aware that documents opened as email attachments or downloaded through a web browser will be saved on the computer's hard drive.
  • On Windows computers, use SHIFT-DELETE when deleting documents.  This action will directly delete documents, and not just put them into the recycle bin.
  • See additional tips for using public computers.

Public computers at Penn

  • Most computers in Penn's classrooms, labs, libraries, and other public areas require a PennKey to log on and are managed by professional IT staff.   They offer a higher degree of security than you will find at other public locations.  But you should still avoid handling sensitive information on public computers; if you forget to log off, the next user could have access to any documents you opened during your session.
  • Log on and log off for each session.  If a previous user left an active session, logoff or restart the computer before starting your work.  Be sure to log off when you are done.
  • Use Remote Desktop connections whenever possible to access your documents.  With remote desktop, documents and other information are not downloaded to or stored on the public computer.
  • Don't forget your USB key or other items!  Take a good look around before you walk away; check the USB ports on the computer.



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Public Computers are

  • located in classrooms, libraries, airports, cafés, hotels, etc.
  • intended for use by many people
  • usually managed by people you don't know
  • a risk for keystroke loggers, viruses or other threats to security and privacy