Staying Safe While Studying Online Via Public Internet Access

Published on: May 07, 2023

Instead of being confined to a class or campus, online degrees enable students to complete their studies from wherever they want. Typically the only criteria is access to a computer or laptop that has access to the internet. The world is much more connected than ever before, which means it’s not too difficult to find an internet connection just about anywhere. However, whether using your own laptop in public or connecting to the internet from a public computer at a library, there are a few safety tips that should be followed. These can help safeguard your belongings and data when out in public. 

Public Computers

Not everyone has access to a laptop, which makes public computers that are available at libraries or internet cafes useful for students on the go. Libraries are the most common place to find public computers but typically require a library card to access them and have limitations on how long they can be used in a single session. Internet cafes are much less common but can still be found in many countries. They provide access to public computers with rates based on the duration of use. Other establishments like guest houses or hotels may also offer public computers for customers. 

Store Your Files Securely - When making use of a public computer, be sure to store any files you want to access securely. Not all establishments allow users to download files directly to public computers, so using a flash drive that can be connected via USB might be the only way to do so. Alternatively, use a web-based service such as GoogleDrive that allows you to access your files from anywhere you can connect online. If you connect your flash drive to a public computer, be sure to have up-to-date and active anti-virus protection before connecting it to your own computer or laptop. 

Safeguard Your Belongings - Never leave your personal belongings unattended when making use of a public computer. Items such as phones, wallets, headphones, and keys should not be left out in the open, where opportunistic thieves can grab them. 

Safeguard Your Information - If you have to log into any websites or services when working on a public computer, be on the lookout for people in your surroundings. Make sure that nobody is watching over your should to try and see your passwords. Do not enable any options for the browser on a public computer to save any of your login details or credentials. Before leaving, ensure you have logged out of any sites or services and do not leave any sensitive information displayed on the screen. 

Wear Headphones - Watching lectures or other study-related video materials on a public computer can be a disruption for those around you, especially in libraries. Bring a spare set of headphones you can use for privacy when viewing these materials. Some public computers may already have headphones connected, but an inexpensive pair you can carry with you is recommended. Not only is it more hygienic, but not all public computers have headphones or external speakers.

Public Wi-Fi

Even if you have your own laptop to use for your studies, you will still need to connect to the internet occasionally. Thankfully, most places offer free public Wi-Fi these days, making it easy to do so. From libraries and coffee shops to hotels and airports, there’s no shortage of easily accessible public Wi-Fi spots. However, even if your laptop is secure, you still need to take care when accessing public Wi-Fi spots.

Don’t Trust Random Free Networks - When trying to connect to a free public network, make sure that you are connecting to one that is reputable. Be wary of criminals that may try and set up networks that look harmless but are designed to steal your information. Before connecting to a network, double-check the names or confirm with an employee of the business that it is legitimate. Finally, do not trust any public networks that prompt you to install suspicious software or browser extensions before you can connect. 

Disable File Sharing - File sharing is helpful for home use but not something that you want to be enabled when connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. Consult the documentation for your operating system and familiarize yourself with the process of disabling file sharing on public networks. 

Use A VPN If Possible - A virtual private network (VPN) service can help to safeguard your information and privacy when accessing a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Since the VPN encrypts your data, it can protect against packet sniffing, rogue Wi-Fi networks, and man-in-the-middle attacks aimed at people using public networks. When accessing websites, stick to ones with an SSL certificate, as they offer an extra layer of protection to make your browsing more secure. These sites can be identified with a padlock symbol and an “HTTPS” in the URL.

Keep Your Security Software and OS Up To Date: Criminals are continually coming up with new ways to steal user information, which is why keeping your security software and operating system up to date is essential. Updates can be set to download automatically or at scheduled times so that they do not interfere with your regular usage. However, do not postpone updates too long, as this can leave your system vulnerable. 


While it is virtually impossible to safeguard against everything, the tips above can help to minimize the risks from some of the most common threats when using public computers or Wi-Fi. Studying online gives students more freedom to earn their degree on the go, but it’s important not to get complacent about the security risks.

This site was founded by librarian Mike Madin in 1998. After more than 20 years on the Internet, AcademicInfo has become the premier website for education and university related information and reviews.

While we do our very best to provide accurate and up-to-date information, please contact us if you find anything that is either wrong, or that you feel is missing from the site.

Copyright © 1998 - 2024 Academic Info. All rights reserved.