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    August 2012
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    Online Banking – Is it Safe?

    Gerald Trites, FCA, CPA

    Online banking has become one of the most popular tools for managing money. The convenience of managing one’s own bank account, transferring money, paying bills, and checking transactions, all from home, is just too irresistible.

    And yet, there are concerns about how safe it is from hackers, viruses and the like.

    The banks do take considerable precautions in terms of preserving the safety of online banking. They employ high encryption, for example, so all transactions are not readable while in transit or in their systems. They also have implemented enhanced log-in procedures, that help to ensure that users employ proper password protocol and are less likely to fall for phishing (phoney screens/messages that try to emulate a valid bank message).

    The whole online banking system, however, consists of connected devices that extend from the user’s computer to the bank. The bank can only control parts of the system. The parts that are outside its control are the user’s own computer, the network being used to connect to the bank, and any other device being used to connect.

    The user’s computer is often full of holes for viruses and hackers to exploit. Normally they are not encrypted, which they should be to be safe. The browser being used to access the bank needs to be configured for maximum security, which is clearly available in the drop-down menus. Not everyone does that. And the browser needs to be set so that the history is erased each time it is used. Many people periodically wipe out the history, as the banks advise when the user logs off, but the browser should be set to automatically do this when it is closed. The history contains a record of all the web sites visited and much of the data that has been entered into them. That would include the bank’s website and ID’s and passwords. A ready reference source for prying eyes.

    The network being used to access the online banking site is often the home network of the user, which is usually a wireless system. Needless to say – but it bears repeating anyway – the passwords set on the system need to be of the highest order available. Also, encryption, where available, needs to be enabled.

    Users sometimes use other networks, such as those at coffee shops and other public places. This simply should not be done for online banking – it’s akin to having a shower in a glass box in a public square. Wireless networks at a place of employment may be OK, depending on the level of security in place there.

    Other devices, like tablets and smart phones are rapidly growing is usage. Both of them can often use wireless networks, so the same arguments apply as to the security of those networks. The mobility networks vary in security capability, especially when one is travelling, and prudence is the better course for them.

    The bottom line – enjoy the convenience of online banking, but be mindful of the security environment when you are using it.

    The MONEY® Network