Tech Talk
January 27, 2006

Internet Banking

I recently got a notice from my bank that as of December, 2005 personal savings account statements would only be provided twice per year instead of monthly as had previously been the case. They further advised me that I could access full statements via Internet Banking, a service they introduced about a year ago.

This indirect hint from my bank to sign up for Internet banking was not unexpected. Banks all over the world have been moving to internet or online banking to eliminate or reduce costly paper handling and teller transactions in an increasingly competitive banking environment. {{more}}In addition, the ability to access account information and transact business with one’s bank at any time, from anywhere in the world is very attractive to existing or potential bank customers comfortable with computer and internet technology.

Internet banking allows customers to view and print account balances, transfer funds, order cheque books, request stop payment of a cheque and pay bills online without having to physically visit their bank.

This convenience, however, comes with a risk. The internet is home to hackers and cyber criminals, who spend their time devising ways to access other organizations or people’s private information over the internet and using it to their benefit.

Most banks that offer online banking facilities have adopted 128 bit Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption technology. This ensures the information exchanged between your computer and the bank’s web site is protected. Banks also have firewalls, which are designed to prevent unauthorised access to the bank’s servers.

Therefore, when security breaches do occur, the weak link is most often the account holder’s personal computer or they themselves. There are several things you can do however, to minimize the risk involved in banking online.

1. Hackers can lure you to enter your user ID and password at a web site that resembles your bank’s website. Always check the URL (web address) of your bank’s web site. Never enter your user ID or password or such sensitive information without ascertaining that you are on the right web site.

2. Change your password monthly. And memorize it.

4. Keep your operating system and browser up-to-date with the latest security patches.

5. Always log out when you exit the online banking portal. Never exit simply by closing the browser.

6. Before entering personal information on a web site, check that your web session is secure by looking for a small lock symbol in the lower corner of your web browser window. A closed lock indicates the web site you are on is secure.

7. Install a personal firewall to help prevent hackers from gaining unauthorised access to your home computer, especially if you connect to the Internet through a cable or a DSL modem. These “always on” connections provide criminals with a continuous window of opportunity for attacks on your personal computer.

8. Update your anti-virus software every day.

9. Disable file sharing on your personal computer.

10. Don’t use the embedded links in any e-mail to get to any web page. Type the link address (URL) in your web browser.

11. Don’t open, run, install or use programs or files obtained from a person or organisation you do not know or from someone who is not a reputable vendor.

12. Many banks have a ‘last logged in’ panel on their internet banking sites. If your bank has it, check the panel whenever you log in. If you notice irregularities (like the panel saying that you logged in that morning, whereas the last time you logged in was two days ago), report the matter at once to the bank and change your password immediately.

13. Don’t, in response to any e-mail, provide your online user ID, passwords, credit and debit card numbers. No bank’s representative will ever ask for your user ID/ credit or debit card number/ password by email.

14. Don’t select the option on browser that stores or retains user name and password (i.e. Auto Complete).

15. Avoid accessing Internet banking at public places like cyber cafes which are prone to attacks by hackers. Also, avoid locations that offer online connections through wireless networks (Wi-Fi), where privacy and security are minimal.

Remember, your bank expects you to take the minimal precautions while banking online. If you incur a loss because of negligence, you may not be able to claim any damages from the bank. Before signing up, read all the information available on the bank’s website thoroughly. Pay special attention to their disclaimer and suggestions on how to reduce your risk. Seek clarifications to anything you don’t understand.

It is easy to let your guard down while online, especially when surfing from the comfort of your home. Always bear in mind there are crooks lurking, waiting for you to slip up. Take care!