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Old 7th May 2012, 09:38 PM   #1
Bob001
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Tell me about portable browsers...

Portable browsers are often recommended as a security tool when using public computers at a library, internet cafe etc. You load portable versions of Firefox, Chrome etc. from your own computer onto your own flash drive, then insert the flash drive into the public computer, and theoretically whatever you do on that computer is through your own browser. Question: What are the security flaws, if any, in this plan? Does anything you do remain on the public computer when you remove the drive? Does a portable browser defeat a keylogger or packet sniffer? What does a portable browser do to make me safer, and what does it NOT do?

http://portableapps.com
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Old 7th May 2012, 10:48 PM   #2
Earthborn
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I think the biggest flaw with that plan is that you often won't have access to the USB ports, and if the owner of the public computer is unwise enough to expose the USB ports to the public, taking your own flash drives and running software from them is definitely frowned upon.

A portable app should not leave any trace on the host computer, though it may produce some temporary files. It will not protect you against keyloggers or packet sniffers, but a portable browser does allow you to take your own favourites/bookmarks with you and won't write cookies to the host computer.

All in all, using portable apps on a public computer is never going to be a great security protection for you, and a huge security risk to the host computer's owner. Portable apps are for use on the computers of friends you trust, and who trust you.
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Old 8th May 2012, 04:40 AM   #3
Dancing David
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Um, what? If you want security you use encryption, like through an https:// site?

Do you mean 'security' in that you are not leaving a track in the history of the installed browser? Because unless you are using a tunnel or a proxy site, the data is going to be somewhere, like in the router tables.

I really don't see many google hits for this.

IMO, the main benefit to portable programs is convenience on your own machines. Say I have a really boogered up machine, I can use a portable anti malware program without using the boogered up network connections.

If you are trying to do something on a public computer you don't want to leave traces, that a portable browser really won't help. It will give you a browser that is not installed.

But it won't let you subvert firewalls or filters.
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Old 8th May 2012, 04:54 AM   #4
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It also won't protect you from keyloggers looking at your sites and the IDs and passwords you type.
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Old 8th May 2012, 08:12 AM   #5
Babbylonian
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Originally Posted by Earthborn View Post
I think the biggest flaw with that plan is that you often won't have access to the USB ports, and if the owner of the public computer is unwise enough to expose the USB ports to the public, taking your own flash drives and running software from them is definitely frowned upon.
It's like unprotected sex - there's even insertion! I certainly wouldn't trust my flash drive after it's been inserted into a public computer that allowed such.
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Old 9th May 2012, 12:27 PM   #6
CORed
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Originally Posted by Earthborn View Post
I think the biggest flaw with that plan is that you often won't have access to the USB ports, and if the owner of the public computer is unwise enough to expose the USB ports to the public, taking your own flash drives and running software from them is definitely frowned upon.

A portable app should not leave any trace on the host computer, though it may produce some temporary files. It will not protect you against keyloggers or packet sniffers, but a portable browser does allow you to take your own favourites/bookmarks with you and won't write cookies to the host computer.

All in all, using portable apps on a public computer is never going to be a great security protection for you, and a huge security risk to the host computer's owner. Portable apps are for use on the computers of friends you trust, and who trust you.
I have used library computers that allowed me to use a USB flash drive for downloading material. I've never tried to run software from a USB drive on a public computer. Picking up malware from the public computer is certainly a risk if you do this.

Best for your security and flexibility would be to have a bootable USB drive with your own OS on it. There are a number of Linux distributions that can be installed to a bootable USB drive (I have done this, but not for use on a public computer.) OTOH, the owner of a public system would have to be pretty clueless to leave the computer configured to allow you to boot from USB. Also, depending on how their network is configured, and whether your portable OS supports the public computer's NIC or wireless adapter, you might not actually be able to get on their network, and the internet. Of course, it is still entirely possible that the owner of the computer could filter or snoop your internet traffic from elsewhere on the network, unless you do everything over https or other encrypted protocol.

Last edited by CORed; 9th May 2012 at 12:28 PM.
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Old 9th May 2012, 12:29 PM   #7
CORed
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Originally Posted by Babbylonian View Post
It's like unprotected sex - there's even insertion! I certainly wouldn't trust my flash drive after it's been inserted into a public computer that allowed such.
True, and a condom isn't going to help.
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