But how secure is mobile banking? Could a thief sniff out your bank account information digitally? Is it safe to make financial transactions using an app or text messaging, or by visiting a mobile Web site?
The good news is that mobile banking is somewhat secure just because there are so many variations of banking apps and methods in the market. A thief has no way of predicting which method a potential victim might use. If there were only one standardized method the story might be different. Even so, there are certain rules you should follow to make sure your banking information remains safe.
Don’t Follow Links
You may have heard the term phishing. Phishing refers to the practice of tricking someone into revealing private information. Fishing and phishing are similar concepts — there’s bait involved with both. With a phishing scheme, that bait might be as simple as a text message or e-mail. It may be as complex as a fake Web site designed to mimic your bank’s official site, which is called spoofing.
You should never follow a banking link sent to you in a text message or e-mail. These links could potentially lead you to a spoofed Web site. If you enter your information into such a site, you’ve just handed that data over to thieves. It’s always a good idea to navigate to a Web site directly. Enter your bank’s Web address into your phone and bookmark it. This will help you avoid bogus Web sites.
On a related note, you should never send your account information or password via text message or e-mail. It’s a common phishing scheme to send out bogus requests for such information. Don’t fall for it!
Avoid Banking While on Public Networks
Many mobile devices allow you to connect to different types of networks, including Wi-Fi networks. You might be tempted to check your balance or make some transfers while you grab a quick drink at a coffee shop. But before you login to your account, make sure you’re not connected to the public network.
Public connections aren’t very secure — most places that offer a public Wi-Fi hotspot warn users not to share sensitive information over the network. If you need to access your account information, you may want to switch to another network. If you’re using a smartphone or other cellular device, disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to a cellular network is a good solution. You never know who might be listening in over the public network.
Use Official Bank Apps When Possible
Many banks now offer official applications in smartphone and tablet app stores. In general, these apps tend to be more secure than sending information by SMS message or e-mail. Most banks go to great lengths to make sure any information sent across a network by an app is encrypted.
Make sure your bank sanctions the app before you download and install it. Most banks will include a section on their Web sites to let you know about the official app. Once you’ve verified the app is official, it shouldn’t be difficult to download and install to your device.
Be Careful of What You Download
While there aren’t as many examples of malware out in the mobile device market as there are on traditional PCs, the fact remains that mobile devices are just specialized computers. That means it’s possible for someone to design an app that could try to access your information. One way this could happen is if the app hides a keylogger.
A keylogger is a program that records — or logs — keystrokes. Every letter or number you enter into your phone could be recorded. If a hacker pairs a keylogger with some code that either sends off an e-mail or text message at certain times of the day, you might be sending all your keystrokes to someone anywhere on the globe.
For the moment, mobile devices are less prone to malware attacks than computers. But you should still be careful when downloading apps — not just your banking app, but all apps. Do a little research before you download that next widget or game to make sure the app developer has a good reputation. And if you’ve jail-broken an iPhone or you’ve side-loaded unapproved apps, be aware that your data could be vulnerable.
Keep Track of Your Mobile Device
Perhaps the biggest risk is also the reason why mobile banking is so popular — mobile devices are easy to carry around everywhere we go. They can contain everything from passwords to contact lists to our calendar appointments. Information like that can be dangerous if your mobile device falls into the wrong hands.
Apart from tethering all your gadgets to your body or scrapping all electronics and turning into a luddite, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk. If your device has a digital locking mechanism you should use it. Some devices require you to trace a pattern or insert a PIN. While it might slow you down to have to enter a PIN each time you want to use your phone, that layer of security might be enough to keep a thief from accessing your bank account before you can report your phone as missing.
Don’t be scared off from using your mobile device to access your bank accounts. Just be sure to practice good, safe behaviors and keep track of your gadgets. With a little common sense and attention, mobile banking can be both convenient and secure.
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