This was posted on one of the Yahoo groups by SGG and I think it is worth reemphasizing what she says. Everything she says here rings true. Some Internet Cafes are managed better than others, but most are lax in their use of updated Anti-virus and spyware programs.
The safest practice is to use your own laptop and to keep it current on all program updates. The only caution I didn’t see Susan mention is being careful with wireless connections. You are safer, if you are on a wireless connection that requires WPA encryption. WEP is less secure and no encryption is unsecured. WPA and WEP will require the wireless host to tell you the connection password.
For those of you who travel to and within Panama and use internet cafes to check email and transact other business: Do not use an internet cafe to conduct any sensitive business. Even checking email can be hazardous.
The webmaster of www.bocas.com found that out yesterday. (He surely should have known better). He was traveling and did not take his laptop, instead he went to an internet cafe to do some updates (h hosts about 100 web pages, mostly for hotels and other tourist and real estate businesses). He logged on to his hosting service site to update a page for one of his clients and his password was logged and stolen and the entire site and all of his customers pages were down for most of the day after being hacked. I found out about it because a guest with a pending reservation alerted me.
Internet cafes in Panama are often very insecure. The owners are sometimes absentee and the minimum wage employees lacking in computer savvy, particularly on security matters. Security controls are sparse or non existent and anti virus software often lacking or not updated daily.
I recommend against doing internet banking or engaging in any shopping transactions (where you have to enter bank or credit card information) at internet cafes. Do it before you leave home. Before checking your email, or doing anything that requires entering a password (in other words, anything more than casual web browsing) check the computer setup to see if your cache and history can be deleted. Many internet cafes disallow this. Be especially careful of those internet machines where you put in a dollar to use it for 40 minutes. Those computers are set up in a way that you cannot clear browser history or cache.
Allowing your email password to be stolen can be very dangerous unless you are absolutely certain that nowhere in your email history is anything sensitive (like passwords, financial information, etc.)