Ways to Make Sure Public Computers You Use Are Safe

Most folks have their own computers these days. Between smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops, you probably have internet access pretty much all the time. However, sometimes you’ll find yourself using a computer that’s not yours – perhaps you’re visiting a friend, using public resources at the library, or your work requires you to log into different systems all day.

Public WiFi is dangerous no matter what computer you’re on, but foreign machines demand even greater caution. Whenever you have to use a computer that’s open to the public, make sure you follow these guidelines

Don’t Save Login Information

Many websites have a convenient checkbox that allows you to stay signed in even after closing your browser. While this makes life easier for personal surfing, saving personal info in your browser is a bad idea, and you never want to do it on a computer that someone else could log on to.

Additionally, be sure to sign out once you’re done working on a site that requires a login. Don’t assume that just because you close the browser window that your session won’t be preserved for the next person that comes along. Even if you don’t save your password, leaving your email around for others to peruse could lead to spam or other annoyances.

Be Mindful of What You’re Doing

This one isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but rather a general principle. When using a computer you haven’t customized to you liking, there’s no way to be sure it hasn’t been tampered with. Because of this, you’ll need to be vigilant about your activities on the machine. You probably shouldn’t log into anything that deals with finance, such as your bank or PayPal. Avoid typing in any passwords if you can get along without doing so.

Consider Alternate Booting

Since most computers run Windows, in all likelihood the computer at your library or school will be one of them. Luckily, just like you can dual-boot, it’s simple to boot into another operating system (such as Linux) on any computer that that doesn’t have a locked BIOS (which isn’t likely).

Be Practical

The above technical advice is all important, but don’t abandon common sense. While using a shared computer, it’s probable there will be others around you. Be sure you don’t walk away from the machine and leave it unattended when you’re working, and be wary of those who might be looking over your shoulder.

Make sure you know what a document or website contains before you open it; you don’t want to show a big document with your financial info or unintentionally open an inappropriate website for all around you to see. For links, check them with a tool like VariablySFW first, which lets you peek at possibly not safe for work (NSFW) websites before you fully load them.

The Problem With DNS and Privacy

The Domain Name System (DNS) is often called “the internet’s phone book.” It’s the technology responsible for linking the domains we all use every day (e.g. makeuseof.com) with the IP address of that site’s web server.

Of course, you could enter a site’s IP address and you would still end up at its homepage, but text-based URLs are much easier to remember, hence why we use them.

Unfortunately, DNS technology comes with many privacy issues. The issues can undermine your online safety, even if you take all the usual precautions elsewhere on your system. Here are some of the worst privacy issues associated with DNS.

How to Use Cloudflare DNS

How to Use Cloudflare DNS on Windows

To change your DNS provider on Windows, follow the steps below:

  1. Open the Settings app from the Start menu.
  2. Go to Network & Internet > Status > Change your network settings > Change adapter options.
  3. Right-click on your connection and select Properties
  4. Scroll down, highlight Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), and click on Properties
  5. Click on Use the following DNS server addresses
  6. Enter in the first row and in the second row
  7. Hit OK

You may need to restart your machine.

How to Use Cloudflare DNS on Mac

If you have a Mac, follow these instructions to change your DNS instead:

  1. Go to Apple > System Preferences > Network
  2. Click on your connection in the panel on the left-hand side of the window
  3. Click on Advanced
  4. Highlight DNS and click+
  5. Enter and in the space provided
  6. Click OK

How to Use Cloudflare DNS on a Smartphone

To use Cloudflare on Android and iOS, you can download the free app from the respective app stores. The app is a more recent project from Cloudflare; it only went live in November 2018.

Called, the app provides an easy-to-use on/off toggle for the company’s DNS servers. Of course, you could up the DNS using your phone’s native tools, but the settings aren’t always easy to find and some manufacturers even block access to them. The app is much more novice-friendly.

And Remember to Always Use a VPN

More important than a good DNS, you should always use a strong VPN in the battle for online privacy.

All reputable VPN providers will also supply their own DNS addresses. However, sometimes you’ll need to manually update your DNS using the methods we detailed above. Failure to do so will result in a DNS leak.

But just because your VPN provider provides its own DNS addresses, you can still use Cloudflare’s addresses instead. In fact, it’s recommended; it’s very unlikely your VPN’s DNS will be as sophisticated or as robust as the new service.

If you’re looking for a solid and reputable VPN provider, we recommend ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, or Private Internet Access.

And if you would like to learn more, make sure you check out our guides to what a DNS server is and how DNS cache poisoning works.