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Banking Securely Online


Online banking continues to present challenges to your financial security and personal privacy.

Millions of people have had their checking accounts compromised, mainly as a result of online

banking. If you

Read this......

Banking Securely Online


Online banking continues to present challenges to your financial security and personal privacy.

Millions of people have had their checking accounts compromised, mainly as a result of online

banking. If you are going to use online banking to conduct financial transactions, you should

make yourself aware of the risks and take precautions to minimize them. The following

practices, which are discussed further in this paper, can help you avoid common security

problems associated with online banking:

Review all privacy and policy information.

Use unique and hard to guess login information.

Protect your computer.

Check your account balance regularly.

Pay using credit cards.

Do not access your account from public locations.

Verify email correspondence from bank.

If your account is compromised, take swift action.

Attacks that Target Online Banking

Several types of electronic fraud specifically target online banking. Some of the more popular

types are described below:

Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks use fake email messages from an agency or individual pretending to represent

your bank or financial institution. The email asks you to provide sensitive information (name,

password, account number, and so forth) and provides links to a counterfeit web site. If you

follow the link and provide the requested information, intruders can access your personal account

information and finances (see “Recognizing and Avoiding Email Scams” for more information).

In some cases, pop-up windows can appear in front of a copy of a genuine bank web site. The

real web site address is displayed; however, any information you type directly into the pop-up

will go to unauthorized users (for a more technical discussion, see “Technical Trends in Phishing

Attacks” at (In a similar

scheme, called “Vishing,” a person calls you and pretends to be a bank representative seeking to

verify account information.)





Produced 2006 by US-CERT, a government organization. Updated 2008. 2


Malware is the term for maliciously crafted software code. Special computer programs now exist

that enable intruders to fool you into believing that traditional security is protecting you during

online banking transactions. Attacks involving malware are a factor in online financial crime (see

“Technical Trends in Phishing Attacks” for more information). In fact, it is possible for this type

of malicious software to perform the following operations:



Account information theft - Malware can capture the keystrokes for your login

information. Malware can also monitor and capture other data you use to authenticate

your identity (for example, special images that you selected or “magic words” you




Fake web site substitution - Malware can generate web pages that appear to be

legitimate but are not. They replace your bank’s legitimate web site with a page that can

look identical, except that the web address will vary in some way. Such a “man-in themiddle

attack” site enables an attacker to intercept your user information. The attacker

adds additional fields to the copy of the web page opened in your browser. When you

submit the information, it is sent to both the bank and the malicious attacker without your






Account hijacking - Malware can hijack your browser and transfer funds without your

knowledge. When you attempt to login at a bank web site, the software launches a hidden

browser window on your computer, logs in to your bank, reads your account balance, and

creates a secret fund transfer to the intruder-owned account.




Pharming attacks involve the installation of malicious code on your computer; however, they

can take place without any conscious action on your part. In one type of pharming attack, you

open an email, or an email attachment, that installs malicious code on your computer. Later, you

go to a fake web site that closely resembles your bank or financial institution. Any information

you provide during a visit to the fake site is made available to malicious users.

All the attack types listed above share one characteristic; they are created using technology but,

in order to succeed, they need you to provide information:



In phishing attacks, you must provide the information or visit links.

With malware, you must be tricked into performing actions you would not normally do.

You would have to install the malware on your computer either by running a program,

such as an email attachment, or by visiting a web site through email or instant message

link. Then, you would have to submit your bank login information. Your financial

information would be at risk only after you performed all these steps.



With pharming attacks, you must open an email, or email attachment, to become

vulnerable. You then visit a fake website and, without your knowledge, provide

information that compromises your financial identity.



Produced 2006 by US-CERT, a government organization. Updated 2008. 3

Tips for Safe Online Banking

When it comes to online banking, there is no way to absolutely guarantee your safety. However,

good practices do exist that can reduce the risks posed to your online accounts. The following

sections describe these practices.

Review your bank’s information about its online privacy policies and


By law, banks are required to send you a copy of their privacy policies and practices annually;

you may also request a copy of this information (see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations,

Title 16: Commercial practices, Part 313.9 – Delivering Privacy and Opt Out Notices for more

information). Bank web sites should also have this information. As you read this information,

pay particular attention to any mention of the methods used for encrypting transactions and

authenticating user information. Also, check the information to see if the bank requires

additional security information before authorizing a payment to a business or individual that has

never received a payment before.





Before setting up any online bill payment, check the privacy policy of

the company or service you will be sending payment to.

You have the right to limit the information an online bank shares with both its parent

organization and any other financial institutions (see “Protecting Your Privacy” and “How

Anonymous Are You?” for more information). Be aware that some online banks may have

separate procedures for handling each of these requests. You may also want to use a service

such as the Better Business Bureau to view any existing history of outstanding consumer

complaints about privacy violations.





For security purposes, choose an online personal identification

number (PIN) that is unique and hard to guess.

Be sure to change your PIN regularly. Do not choose a PIN that contains personal information

such as your birthday or Social Security number; an attacker might be able to guess these.

Regardless of the circumstances, never give someone access to your current PIN number (see

“Choosing and Protecting Passwords” for more information).

Install anti-virus, firewall, and anti-spyware programs on your

computer and keep them up to date.

Installing and updating this software protects your computer and its contents against

unauthorized access. You should turn on automatic updates for these programs or, if prompted,

always agree to download system updates as soon as they are available (see “Understanding

Anti-Virus Software,” “Understanding Firewalls,” and “Recognizing and Avoiding Spyware” for

more information).

Regularly check your online account balance for unauthorized


Timing is a factor in your response to unauthorized electronic fund transactions. If you receive a

paper account balance, make sure that you reconcile it with your online balance.

Use a credit card to pay for online goods and services.

Credit cards usually have stronger protection against personal liability claims than debit cards.

Some credit cards limit personal liability for unauthorized transactions to $50. Personal liability

for debit cards can be higher. According to the Federal Reserve’s Regulation E, if you report an

electronic fund transaction problem involving debit cards to a bank or financial institution in the

first two days, you are only liable for $50. Reporting that same incident between 3 and 60 days

increases your personal liability to $500. After 60 days, there are no financial restrictions placed

on your personal liability (see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Title 12: Banks and

Banking, Part 205 – Electronic Fund Transfers (Regulation E) for more information).



Avoid situations where personal information can be intercepted,

retrieved, or viewed by unauthorized individuals.

You should conduct online bank transactions in locations that are not subject to public

monitoring. When you are entering login information, you should avoid using unsecured or

public network connections (for example, at a coffee shop or library). As a general rule, you

should avoid using any computer that other people can freely access; the end result could be

unauthorized access of your financial information. Remember, it is possible for your account

information to be stored in the web browser’s temporary memory (see “Guidelines for

Publishing Information Online” for more information).

If you receive email correspondence about a financial account, verify

its authenticity by contacting your bank or financial institution.



You should not reply to any email requests for security information, warnings of an account

suspension, opportunities to make easy money, overseas requests for financial assistance, and so

forth. Also, links found in these suspicious emails should not be clicked. Forward a copy of the

suspicious email to the Federal Trade Commission at and then delete the email

from your mailbox.

If you have disclosed financial information to a fraudulent web site,

file reports with the following organizations:

your bank

the local police

the Federal Trade Commission –

the Internet Crime Complaint Center –

the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (see “Preventing and

Responding to Identity Theft” for more information).




Online banking involves certain risks. It is important to educate yourself about these risks, how

unauthorized access to your financial information occurs, and the steps you can take to protect

your financial information. Learning about your rights and responsibilities as an online banking

consumer can make a difference to your financial well-being by changing the age-old saying “A

penny saved is a penny earned” to “A penny saved is a penny kept.”