You can take care of many banking tasks without ever entering the bank. Just log in to the bank’s website to check balances, make transfers, and even deposit checks using your smartphone’s camera. But beware; anything you can do online, cyber-criminals or identity thieves might be able to take advantage of. They don’t need guns, masks, or getaway cars to rob you blind. Here are seven tips for safe online banking.
1. Use a Strong Password. It probably doesn’t matter if someone else gains unauthorized access to your Club Penguin password. You may have to do some damage control and explain that you didn’t actually post those nasty messages. But a malefactor who cracks or guesses your online banking password can drain your account dry. If you memorize just one strong password, make it your online banking password.
2. Use a Password Manager. Okay, in the real world you probably have more than one online financial account. Rather than strain your brain memorizing tough, hard-to-crack passwords for each of them, enlist the help of a password manager. The best ones not only store your passwords securely but also help you work through your collection of passwords and replace weak ones and duplicates. Furthermore, you can get excellent password management without paying a penny (though you do get more from the paid services).
3. Enable Two-Factor Authentication. Check with your bank to see if its online banking site supports two-factor authentication. With some banks, you can register your smart phone for authentication. Each time you log in, the site texts you a code that you must enter in addition to your password. Other banks may issue you a security token with an ever-changing code. To log in, you enter your password and the current code displayed on the token. Whatever form of two-factor authentication your bank offers, take advantage of it.
4. Use a VPN. For the best security, you should avoid doing online banking when connected to a network you don’t control. That hipster nursing a cappuccino in the corner of the café may be sniffing your network traffic, or the café’s owner may have installed a traffic monitor. If you can’t resist, at least connect through a Virtual Private Network. Now nobody can read your encrypted traffic. For free VPN protection, we like CyberGhost and VPNBook. Commercial VPNs like Private Internet Access and Norton Hotspot Privacy are ad-free, with more power and flexibility. Do note that logging in using a VPN changes your IP address, which may cause the website to require an extra layer of authentication.
5. Use Your Data Plan. In-house VPN expert Fahmida Y. Rashid doesn’t think highly enough of any mobile VPN solution to name an Editors’ Choice. However, if you’re doing online banking on a mobile device, you have a degree of protection built right in. Just turn off Wi-Fi and connect using your cellular data plan. It’s a lot harder for criminals to sniff your cellular data stream than to snag passwords from network traffic.
6. Get Help. You should definitely install a security suite for protection against exploits and password-stealing Trojans. When choosing your suite, look for features aimed specifically at protecting financial transactions. The SafePay feature in Bitdefender Internet Security 2015$44.96 at BitDefender launches your financial sites in a hardened browsing environment that includes a virtual keyboard for added privacy. Kaspersky Internet Security (2015)’s$26.07 at Amazon Safe Money feature automatically opens financial sites in a sandboxed instance of your default browser. Both accomplish the same task—isolating your financial transactions from other processes on the computer.
7. Check It Often. It’s always possible that despite your best efforts, your account could get hacked. Make a point of logging in several times a week, or even daily, to check recent activity. The sooner you detect a breach and report it to your bank, the better your chances to regain control of your money.
Armed with these tips, you should be able enjoy the convenience of online banking without risking catastrophic loss of your funds. Stay alert!
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