Online Banking - Essential Security Measures

Online banking is quite a handy way to keep track of your finances. You simply log on through your bank's website, and you can do things like set up standing orders, transfer money to people or other accounts, and order cheque books. Online banking also allows you to get financial deals that are just not on offer in the offline world. For convenience sake, you can't beat an online bank!

However, this popularity of online banking has not gone unnoticed by the criminal fraternity. We'll show you some popular attacks on your money, and what you can do to prevent them.


One of the most common ways that a criminal will attempt to part you with your money is through something known as Phishing. Phishing is pronounced FISH-ING. It's the Internet's equivalent of this popular sport. The fisherman is a criminal, the bait is usually an email that attempts to panic you into action, and the fish is you!

The criminal will send out thousands of email using a list he got from a spammer. The email that is sent pretends to be from a bank. Let's call it the Wee Bank. Most people the criminal sends the email to will not have an account with the Wee Bank. But some will. It's those few that he's after. In the email, you may be warned that your banking details need updating, and that it's essential that you act now to protect your account. They'll usually try to scare you into taking action. And there's always a link for you to click on. All you need to do is to click on the link and you'll be taken to a secure area where you can enter your details.

If you click on any of these links, you'll be taken to a page that does indeed look like your bank's website. Except it's not. One trick the criminal may use is to have an address that looks similar to your bank's. Your real bank is this:

Real Address

Take a closer look at the address bar, though, and you may see something like this:

Spoofed Address

The address has been spoofed. The "w" is now "vv" - two V's and not one W. But some spoofed addresses are quite difficult to spot, and even fool the more experienced surfers. You need to look for other clues in your browser.

One thing that all browsers will have are padlock icons. These are supposed to tell you that the site is using security measures. If you're using Internet Explorer 7, you'll see this to the right of the address bar:

Click on the padlock and you'll see information about the security certificate (the one in the image below is for 2checkout - a genuine source):

Internet Explorer 7 Security

Click the link that says View Certificates, and you'll see something like this:

View Certificates

Click the Details and Certification Path tabs at the top. There should be plenty of details for you to view. Make sure the certificate has not expired. In the image above, the security certificate is from a good source, and it's still valid (at least, it was when this article was written).

The Firefox browser has more visual clues than Internet Explorer. Notice the address bar from Firefox:

The address bar will turn yellow on a secure site, and the padlock is just to the left of the blue down arrow. Firefox also has another padlock. Look in the bottom left and you'll see this:

Double click the padlocks and you'll see the security certificate. Notice the name of the website to the left of the padlock. This one is from a legitimate source -

One more thing to note. The address for a secure site normally starts with https. If the "s" is missing, it's not a secure site!

A last word of warning, however: these visual clues have been know to be spoofed by the criminals! If in doubt, remember this:

You bank will NEVER send you an email asking for your login details!

If you receive such an email, forward it to your bank. And DON'T click on the link!

The same is true for other secure websites that hold your money - PayPal never send you emails asking you to confirm your details! For a more detailed look at Phishing, there's an excellent Wikipedia article here:

Phishing Article

The latest versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer have anti-Phishing measures built in. You should make sure these are turned on when accessing secure websites.

Password Protection

We've all got passwords. In fact we've all got LOTS of passwords! We've got so many that it's become increasingly difficult to keep track of them all. Banking passwords are no different. But the recommendation is to keep changing each one every few months or so!

Because the whole password process is cumbersome, some people have one password for all of the sites on the internet that ask for them. This is something you should NEVER do! You need a different password for each site. The reason is simple - if a criminal has your password for one website, he's got them for all your sites - he could clean you out!

The problem is, how do you remember them all? One technique for password creation is to take letters and numbers from a favourite song, saying, or something that's special to you. For example, a favourite song of yours may be "happy birthday to you"! To turn this into a password, take the initial letters of each word. You'd then have this:


Not very secure, but easy to remember. Let's complicate it a bit, by adding some capitals:


Slightly more secure. Let's add a number:


Getting better. How about a non alpha-numeric character?


Adding non alpha-numeric character helps password security enormously. Let's make the password longer by singing Happy Birthday to Home and Learn:


Now, not only is the password longer, but it has a mix of numbers, lowercase and uppercase letters, and non alpha-numeric character. This makes it more secure, and harder for criminals to guess. (The password is now "Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Home and Learn".) A password like this is also easier for you to remember.

Passwords should never be just four characters long! The reason is that criminals may have password-cracking software. Using such software, short passwords can be cracked in no time at all. Use at least 8 characters. And not just alpha-numeric ones!

You and Your PC

You should never log in to your bank account using somebody else's computer. Simply because you have no idea what security measures they take, and whether or not the computer is infected.

Internet cafes are also not somewhere you should be entering security information. In an internet cafe, all the data you enter is logged and saved by the owners (they may be forced to do this by law). You can never be sure that your data is safe from prying eyes. Also, what if you forget to log out properly? The next person who uses the computer could see all of your details, and have access to your bank account!

The only place you should be entering your bank details are from your own PC. Of course, you need to make sure that your own computer is safe from infection, and take sensible security measures when it comes to the emails you receive. Follow the suggesting on our site and your PC will be just that much more secure than it was yesterday!

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