Tax Season and Computer Security at Elsie Quirk Public Library

As we wrap up Lemon Bay Fest, some less popular, but necessary items lay ahead.  Unfortunately for many, I’m talking about tax season.  As an additional challenge this year AARP is unable to perform in-person tax preparation at Elsie Quirk this year, and many of their locations in Sarasota County have been booked through the end of tax season.  You can still get limited assistance from the library, however.  Elsie Quirk is providing information on online tax aid sites, tax forms, and IRS contact information.  Additionally, with the revisions in the 1040 and 1040-SR tax forms, many people were intimidated by the process before being able to complete tax documents on their own.

One question we get frequently is about the security of library computers, whether for tax forms, banking, or other uses. 

Anything that travels over the internet is never completely secure, servers from major corporations and government agencies have been “hacked” into.  This said, these hacks have been for a specific purpose.  It is highly unlikely that someone would try to break into the Sarasota Government computer system to look for Federal Tax transmissions, they would be much more likely to target the tax preparation website or the IRS.  

Next, library computers are in a public space.  One of the greatest threats to information security is not a technological one at all, but a method known as shoulder surfing.  In this case the person is just “hanging out” near where you are using the computer and looking at the screen as you type or taking photos of the screen with a cell phone.  This threat is also unlikely, but also very easily deterred through awareness while you are entering sensitive information.  

Another threat to your information is through the computer’s memory.  Information you enter in the computer is stored in local computer memory so that it can be recalled if needed.  Even if items are moved to “trash” there is still a memory back up.  Library computers have a special scrubbing feature that clears the local memory when patrons log off properly using “End Session”.  Check with a library staff member when you come to use a computer and we can show you how to use this feature to guarantee that your information is not stored on the computer when another patron comes in to use it.  

Finally, I’d like to warn about “mirror” websites.  These are sites that seem like they are legitimate sites but are just scam sites to capture your information.  You should never access sites from links in unsolicited emails and always take care when keying in web addresses.  Finally, always submit sensitive information through a website that starts with https://, not http://.  The s means your link is secure and the information is scrambled during the transmission.  

Library computers also do not allow executable software to be downloaded so spyware cannot be installed.  

I hope you feel more comfortable using library computers, and if you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask any member of the library staff, or call the library directly.

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