Be careful what you do on publicly accessible PCs.

This is one of those warnings that seems like it should be obvious, but apparently isn’t for a lot of people. Folks, if you use publicly accessible PCs, such as renting time at Kinko’s or college computer labs or cyber-cafs, make sure you don’t do anything important on them such as online banking. If you do you’re putting yourself at risk of everything from having your bank account drained of its funds to identity theft as the following news article illustrates:

CNN.com – Kinko’s spy case: Risks of renting PCs – Jul. 23, 2003

NEW YORK (AP)—For more than a year, unbeknownst to people who used Internet terminals at Kinko’s stores in New York, Juju Jiang was recording what they typed, paying particular attention to their passwords.

Jiang had secretly installed, in at least 14 Kinko’s copy shops, software that logs individual keystrokes. He captured more than 450 user names and passwords, and used them to access and open bank accounts online.

The case, which led to a guilty plea earlier this month after Jiang was caught, highlights the risks in using public Internet terminals at cybercafes, libraries, airports and other establishments.

I used to be a desktop publishing coordinator for a local Kinko’s back when I was first getting started in my computer career a little over a decade ago and I can tell you from experience that people would walk into the store and try to install all manner of software that they shouldn’t on both the PCs and the Macs. Key-logging software of both the legit and illegit kind don’t announce their presence for obvious reasons and even at places that keep up good security practices, such as re-imaging systems weekly, there’s no guarantee that the system is secure.

Personally, I’d be loath to check my primary email on a public computer such as that let alone do anything in the way of online banking and if you’re smart you’ll avoid doing such things as well.  Juju Jiang wasn’t particularly bright from the sounds of it and yet he was able to pull this off for over a year before being caught so be wary as it doesn’t take much in the way of brains to do this stuff anymore. Which means we’re likely to hear of more and more of these cases as time goes by.

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