How Can You Secure Your Bank Accounts Online?
There is no denying that online banking is convenient. It gives you the ability to access your checking, savings and credit card accounts without visiting a bank or credit union branch. You can use online banking to check balances, pay bills and transfer funds on any computer, and even deposit checks with your smartphone, whenever you like.
Unfortunately, there is also no denying that online banking has created new opportunities for cybercriminals. Online banking safety is entirely dependent on security measures taken by your financial institution and you, the customer. It is subject to the same strict laws and regulations as physical bank and credit union branches. Your bank or credit union has every reason in the world to comply, but there are also several steps you can take to ensure the security of your own accounts.
1. Create A Secure Password.
Creating a rock-solid password is probably the single most important thing you can do to protect your online banking accounts. Don’t use words, phrases or numbers that have meaning for you, such as your address, date of birth, kids’ birthdays, or anything else another person armed with your personal information could possibly guess.
Remarkably, variations of “12345” are still among the most popular passwords in use today, and “password” is still in the top 10. You can do better.
Finally, your online banking password should be unique to that login. Maintaining individual passwords that don’t cross services further minimizes your risk: If someone successfully hacks into one of your accounts, they won’t automatically have access to the rest.
2. Use A Password Manager.
If you are not interested in creating your own secure passwords or fear you may not remember them, try using a password manager. These services generate a new, random password for every site you want to protect. It will then remember those passwords for you, so you only have to remember a single (secure and strong!) password for the manager. You can, theoretically, then have completely random strings of numbers, letters and characters that will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to hack.
Password managers also make it easy to change passwords in case of a suspected or actual breach on any account. Many include a feature that constantly analyzes your logins and issue reports whenever an outdated or compromised password is detected. Some can even automatically change and update passwords on some services for you.
3. Use Two-Factor Authentication.
Having a strong, unique password is a good first step to ensuring your online banking information stays secure. If you want to go the extra step, enable two-factor authentication for any service that offers it.
In recent years, using two-factor (or “two-step”) authentication has emerged as the No. 1 recommendation of cybersecurity professionals, and while the changing landscape around the practice has made it a bit more complicated than originally intended, it is still one of the best ways to add an extra layer of protection to accounts. Essentially, two-factor authentication requires additional verification after the correct password is entered. A common follow-up step is to enter a code sent to you via text message.
As with strong passwords, two-factor authentication is not completely foolproof. But adding that extra layer of protection makes it that much harder to gain unauthorized access to your accounts. Start with securing the email account you used to set up online banking. If a cyber thief can access your email and figure out your user ID, they may be able to reset your password and gain access without ever having to “hack” your online banking account.
4. Use Your Cellular Data Plan.
If you are going to access your online banking account anywhere other than on your own home Wi-Fi network, be sure to switch to cellular data before logging in. Public networks — even those that are themselves password-protected — are a prime target. If you want or need to use online banking on the move, turn Wi-Fi off and use your bank or credit union’s mobile app.
Apps are generally considered more difficult to breach, and they are far less likely to be targeted by a casual hacker. Better yet, online banking shouldn’t use all that much data, since it doesn’t require streaming or the downloading of any large files.
5. Pay Attention To Your Accounts.
You don’t have to use online banking to become a target for cybercriminals — in fact, using online banking can help you detect unauthorized activity. You can use it to check your balances regularly and review every transaction. Catching a breach early will help minimize any potential damage and cut off access as quickly as possible.
Online banking is a marvel of modern convenience. It allows you to have more control over your finances than people have had at any other time in history. Online banking safety is important, but there is no reason to let the threat of a breach outweigh the many benefits.
Are you looking to improve your credit? Check out our series on managing your credit.