Tips | September 2, 2015

How to bank better online – top tips for safer passwords

I’m in a café and decide to take a look at how I am managing money. It’s a common scene now that many of us bank anywhere, anytime with a mobile phone or computer.

With the online passwords that help keep personal money safe, it can be so tempting to choose familiar words or phrases and give little thought to how they are managed. Banking online doesn’t feel quite the same as physical cash in your pocket. People tend to treat money viewed on a screen differently to €20 handed over in change.

The things we do on the internet may not seem quite real – with digital cash, the risks can be less obvious. And taking action can feel like a lot of effort for little individual benefit, as security researcher Nitesh Dhanjani blogs. Here are three simple approaches to better password security.

1. Create and use stronger passwords A good way to start creating passwords that are more difficult to guess or crack is to combine upper- and lower-case letters with numbers and symbols, as explained in this article. Choose a series of characters that does not spell anything or form a sentence. IT experts say the best password has at least 12 characters.

Simply bashing your fingers randomly against a keyboard might create a suitable password – although it might be hard to remember. Instead, how about thinking of a long phrase, about something ordinary, and using just the third letter or number of every word? Another trick is to choose at least six different, unrelated words and join them together.

2. Conceal – don’t reveal – passwords Keep all personal information secret, including passwords. Regularly change all passwords, and do not save them when surfing the internet. Do not reveal a password to anyone or record it anywhere. If someone asks for your information, get in touch with your bank immediately. Log out and lock the screen of your mobile device when not using it, and clear your internet history and cache.

Avoid typing personal data, including passwords, into a phone or laptop when using public Wi-Fi – this will reduce the chance of someone “eavesdropping” on online activity and learning a password. This article explains how wireless networks can be attacked, and gives further hints on protection if you do need to log on in public places like cafés.

3. Layer up for added protection Once stronger passwords are adopted, there are many ways of further improving security. Some banks offer technologies that generate special codes that work alongside the password or PIN, each time a customer logs on. Typically, you enter a personal code into a special key or send a text message using your mobile phone when accessing your account.

Having to do several different things to log on – what’s called multifactor authentication – might seem a chore, but makes it harder for others to get your account details. Other options include firewalls, remote-wipe apps that remove data if a device is lost or discarded, and password manager software, which works by keeping passwords safe in a separate place. You then only need to remember one password: the one that helps unlock the others.

Pass it on
We are using physical cash less – as ING’s International Survey on Mobile Banking 2015 showed. However, that doesn’t mean people are always smart about it. Among five million Gmail passwords leaked publicly in September 2014 , the top choices included “password”, “12345”, “123456”, and “12345678”.

Nothing can protect against every risk when banking on the go – but password security is an important first step that, as the Gmail example shows, many people ignore. Of course, these few tips are not a definitive list. Following banks’ advice for staying safe online is also recommended. Remember to be safe online and think of the long term payoff.

eZonomics team
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