How to Bank Online (and on Your Mobile Device) Safely
Not too long ago, the bank was a popular and universally detested punchline. You could spend hours every week at the bank, trying to deposit paychecks, withdraw cash or sign up for loan programs — and much of that time was spent waiting in line, hoping for a free teller. People would do anything to avoid going to the bank, even hiding money under their mattresses and inside their books.
Mercifully, these days you have access to online banking, which allows you to essentially skip the bank almost entirely. Millions of people log onto their online bank accounts every day, multiple times per day, to check their balance, pay bills, make deposits and more — but is that safe? Considering the stealth and savvy of modern cyber-attackers, is it possible that online banking is exposing your finances to theft? And what about mobile banking?
The truth is that online banking can be safe, but only if you know how to make it so. Here are the tips and tricks you need to avoid attackers and bank online in peace.
Research Your Bank
While there are steps you can take to protect your end of the online banking experience, much of the effort for thwarting cyber attack lies with your bank. That means, before you log onto your bank’s website or mobile app, you should be sure that your bank is taking all precautions to keep their clients safe and their data secure.
At the very least, your bank should require unique usernames and strong passwords to access your accounts. The current industry standard is eight characters to include at least one upper-case letter, one lower-case letter, one symbol and one number. However, newer research into passwords has determined that complexity is more important than length, so your bank should ideally screen for and reject common or easily guessed passwords, like those beginning with “password” or using dictionary words.
On top of this, your bank should use strong encryption to protect your data to ensure that no one on your network is spying on your bank activities. Encryption should be 128-bit or better, and your bank shouldn’t allow you to use a browser that doesn’t support its encryption standard.
Finally, your bank should have plenty of behind-the-scenes cyber security keeping you safe. It isn’t essential that you know exactly what a bank is doing to protect your financial information, and it’s likely that you wouldn’t understand or remember the right tools and techniques, anyway. Still, it doesn’t hurt to interview your bank about their security practices; if they seem sketchy or unresponsive, you might feel more comfortable migrating to a more transparent financial institution.
Protect Your Own Devices
While smaller banks and credit unions are major targets for cybercriminals, who can score a significant amount of valuable data in a single successful hit, it’s important to remember that you are also at risk for cyberattack. Though you might not have as much data stored on your device, your relatively low budget for cybersecurity means your defenses will likely also be low — plus, cybercriminals can employ relatively passive attack strategies, like malware, to infiltrate your device. Thus, you need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to consumer cyber hygiene.
Again, this begins with passwords. Often, the password standards imposed by organizations are behind the times, which means you should strive to go above and beyond when it comes to password complexity. Instead of using a word followed by a string of numbers and symbols, your password should seem utterly random, such as “SS$!-S4tF,” but you should create a mnemonic to remember it, like “Stop spending money! – Save for the future.”
Next, you need to keep your devices updated. The easiest ways for hackers to get into devices is through outdated software. Over time, security gaps called vulnerabilities emerge in old code, and hackers can use exploits to find their way to valuable data. In fact, this is how WannaCry became such a successful attack; un-updated Windows software on computers were susceptible to the ransomware, and because so many computers failed to update their systems, they fell victim to the planted worm. However, by updating your apps as soon as patches are released, you can avoid the vast majority of malware and other cyberattacks.
Last but not least, you should be careful where and when you log onto your online bank. Generally, it’s safe to navigate to your bank’s website or use your banking app when you are connected to a secure, private network, like your encrypted home wi-fi. However, you should avoid checking your accounts whenever you are in public, especially if you are using a public wi-fi network in popular spaces like coffee shops or airports.
Online banking is fast and convenient and it can be safe, too. As long as you prioritize security from every angle, you can enjoy banking online well into the future — and avoid visiting the bank for the rest of your life.