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Safe Online Banking

Last edited: February 13, 2020
Reading time: 8 minutes, 55 seconds

Moneybag with dollar sign on computer

Online banking is something we can’t really go without these days. Let’s be honest, online banking makes transferring, receiving and managing your money much easier. From sending or paying a payment request after a night out with friends, to paying with your phone in the supermarket, to creating and managing different debit and savings accounts: online banking is often very convenient.

Nevertheless, online banking, much like every other kind of banking, involves serious financial risks. It’s important to be aware of these risks so you can minimize the danger they could pose to you. For instance, some criminals might try to infect your computer or phone with malware. This is harmful software cybercriminals can use to break into your device. This way, they might attempt to steal the log in details of your online banking app or account. Cybercriminals could also try to obtain these details by contacting you while pretending to be a bank representative. This is called phishing.

All of this may sound very troubling, but don’t worry. In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about online banking, the possible risks that come with it, signs that might show you’re the target of a cybercrime attack, and ways to prevent this.

Is Online Banking Dangerous?

Most banks around the world take online banking fraud and cybercrime very seriously. Even so, financially motivated cybercrime is still growing at a rapid pace. In fact, according to the 2019 Official Annual Cybercrime Report published by Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime will annually cost the world $6 trillion by 2021, which is double the amount it cost in 2015. This increase is largely due to what the report labels as the expansion of the “cyber attack surface”. Simply put: in 2015 there were 2 billion internet users. In 2030, this is expected to have grown to 7.5 billion. This is a 275% increase in potential targets for online banking fraudsters and other cybercriminals to attack.

The figures above might not inspire a great deal of confidence. Fortunately, banks and organisations are doing a lot to protect their customers and the wider public from online banking fraud. Nowadays, there are a lot of campaigns to increase awareness of cybercrime and phishing. Moreover, new technologies are on the rise. These make logging into your online banking environment much safer, for example by allowing you to log in using your fingerprint.

All in all, there’s a lot being done to make online banking as safe as possible. If you stick to the tips and advice provided in this article and follow your bank’s advice, you will greatly reduce the risk of becoming a victim of online banking fraud.

What Are Possible Risks of Online Banking?

Above we illustrated that, despite the growing costs of cybercrime, the right protective measures can help you stay safe from cybercrime during online banking. Possibly the most important aspect of this is to be aware of the dangers you could face when spending and managing your money online. Below, we’ll discuss two of the most common online banking-related dangers people face around the world: malware and phishing.

Malware

Computervirus LaptopSome cybercriminals use malware to break into your smartphone, computer, or other device. This way, they could potentially steal your banking details or even transfer money out of your account. For example, cybercriminals could use spyware to spy on your computer and read the personal file you created to keep track of your passwords. (This is one of many reasons to never have such a document on your computer!). Cybercriminals could also use a keylogger to steal your login details as you’re typing them. In the worst case scenario, they might even infect your device with a computer virus so they can take over your computer completely and, in your name, transfer your money right into their account.

Although not directly related to online banking, ransomware has also proven to be a serious problem. Ransomware is a type of malware that essentially incapacitates your computer by taking all your files ‘hostage’ until you meet the demands of the distributor of the malware. Usually this means paying a sum of money to the cybercriminals involved.

Needless to say, the dangers described above could come with huge financial implications. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant. Always look out for possible malware and never click on a hyperlink you do not trust. This is especially the case when downloading files. Hiding malicious programs in downloads is a common way for cybercriminals to infect your system with dangerous malware.

Phishing

Phishing Fishhook with PasswordPhishing is a serious problem that could potentially cost you a lot of money. According to Microsoft’s security team, phishing has now become by far the most frequent threat from cybercriminals. The company’s 2019 Security Intelligence Report shows a 250% increase in phishing attacks compared to the previous report (from 2018).

In a phishing attack, a criminal attempts to obtain someone’s personal details or sensitive information by pretending to be a party this person trusts, such as a bank. The victim will be contacted by this impostor and asked to give sensitive information. Cybercriminals might send you an email which looks as if it’s been sent by your bank, asking you for your login information. They could also call you or send a text message. Most often, they’ll include a plausible sounding reason as to why they need certain information. Even so, do not fall for this trick!

It’s highly unlikely your bank will ask you for your login details, pin codes or other confidential information. Sometimes a representative or customer support agent of your bank might ask you for some personal information, such as your date of birth. However, this is only for verification purposes and only happens when you contact them with a question or request.

Your bank is probably a large organization that has strict rules on privacy and security. This is why, if you lose your password, you’ll be sent instructions to create a new one or a document containing a new (temporary) password. This is much safer than keeping your sensitive info on file or contacting you about sensitive details.

In short, if someone claims to be a bank representative and asks you for sensitive details, do not comply. Contact your bank via an email or phone number you trust and ask whether the request indeed came from them. Most likely, they won’t know anything about this request: somebody tried to “phish” you.

How Do Banks Make Online Banking Safer?

Banks generally work very hard to make online banking as safe as possible. After all, they also lose a ton of money to cybercrime (think reimbursements, etc.). That’s why many banks run awareness campaigns to inform clients on cybercriminals’ methods. Banks also use a lot of (modern) technologies to make online banking safer. For instance, many online banking apps allow customers to log in with their fingerprint rather than with a traditional pin code.

Many banks have created online banking environments that are as safe as possible. This includes making sure the connection between their website and their customers is safe. Many browsers, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer show whether your connection to a certain website is secure. You can recognize such a safe connection by the following:

  • The URL you’re visiting includes “https://”. You’ll be able to see this in the field where the website’s name is displayed. The “s” stands for secure. If you only see “http://”, the connection isn’t secure. In many browsers, such as Chrome, you won’t see “https//” instantly: you’ll have to click on the URL to make it appear.
  • HTTPS icons meaningMany browsers will show a little pad lock symbol just left of or inside the address bar. By clicking this, you’ll be able to see the website’s safety certificate, which indicates whether the website has a secure connection. If this isn’t the case, you’ll see a little exclamation mark instead of the little padlock.

If the page you’re visiting doesn’t have a secure connection, do not share your personal details with that page. This will make your data vulnerable to cybercriminals. Are you unsure about the safety of your connection? It’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t fill out any forms on said page.

Safe Online Banking: How to do it

Banks around the world are working hard to make online banking as safe as possible. Aside from these efforts, however, there are a few safety measures you can take yourself when managing your finances online. These tips will help you decrease the risk of becoming a victim of online banking fraud.

Moreover, by taking charge of your own online safety, you can prove to your bank you aren’t negligent in any way, shape or form. This way, if something bad were to happen, you are much more likely to receive a reimbursement.

Want to protect yourself while online banking? Here’s what you can do:

  • Only transfer money to parties you trust. A money transfer can usually not be undone without explicit permission of the receiving party.
  • Do not use any of the login details you use for online banking for any other online portals or services.
  • Do not give your online banking login details to anyone. Keep them to yourself, just like any pin codes and other sensitive authentication information.
  • Stay up-to-date with and make use of new, safe technologies to protect your online bank account, such as the option to log in with your fingerprint or use two factor authentication.
  • Ensure your device’s operating system is up-to-date. This also goes for your online banking app, if you use one. The best thing to do is configure your settings to have updates installed automatically.
  • Never click on a hyperlink or download a file you don’t trust.
  • Delete suspicious emails or messages without clicking on any links or downloading any files they contain.
  • Always make sure the website you’re visiting has a secure HTTPS-connection before you log in to your online banking environment.
  • Install good and reliable antivirus software on your device. Most popular antivirus programs also offer a good built-in firewall, but if yours doesn’t, try to get a separate firewall, too. Make sure both are always up-to-date.
  • If you come across a potential phishing email or message that claims to have been sent by your bank, immediately contact your bank to notify them.
  • If something doesn’t feel quite right as you’re transferring a payment, don’t complete the transaction.
  • Frequently check your online bank account so you’ll quickly spot any peculiarities before they start to cause trouble.

If you follow these tips, managing, paying and receiving money online will become a lot safer. if you’d like more information about secure browsing and internet safety, make sure to check out those sections of our website

Tech-journalist
Nathan is an internationally trained journalist and has a special interest in the prevention of cybercrime, especially where vulnerable groups are concerned. For VPNoverview.com he conducts research in the field of cybersecurity, internet censorship and online privacy.

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