Protect your financial information while online

Every individual has taken advantage of online banking in some way. When it comes to managing checking and savings accounts, there is no more convenient method than going to a computer, logging on to your bank's website and completing your desired tasks.

While transferring money between accounts can be completed in a small number of clicks, protecting yourself from cyber threats isn't so simple. Unfortunately, there are an untold number of threats and criminals waiting to find the smallest vulnerability to steal financial and private information. In 2014, large retailers such as Home Depot and Target were the victims of attacks after their systems were breached. Millions of customers' financial information was stolen, with credit and debit card information left exposed.

The attacks were particularly noteworthy and worrisome because large retailers had some of the strongest security measures in place. As the average consumer, you have to as well. Luckily, there are a few ways you can protect your financial information while browsing the Internet.

A pile of credit cards with a lock on top.

Online bankers need to protect themselves.

Get a strong password and store it
The first line of security is, and always will be, a strong password. Even though it's 2015, the list of most common passwords contains words and phrases that are easy to crack for experienced hackers and cybercriminals.

According to SplashData's Annual List of Worst Passwords, "123456" remained the worst password used based on the more than 3.3 million leaked passwords. The second worst password is - unsurprisingly - "password." As you can see, these passwords are neither complex or original.

If you just broke a sweat because of weak login credentials, now is the time to change this information. SplashData specializes in password management, and as such, they have a few guidelines on what creates a strong login key:

  • Avoid using your birthday and birth year
  • Avoid a combination involving your name, especially if it's relatively common
  • Don't use your favorite movies or phrases
  • Stray away from sequence passwords such as "qwertyuiop" or "1qaz2wsx"

Your best option is to utilize a password management program to randomly create and store logins for your bank accounts. Programs such as 1Password and LastPass are lauded for their simplicity, strong security and availability on desktops and mobile devices. Essentially, you need a master password to gain access to a virtual notebook of logins. These programs can even create randomized passwords that utilize upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols and punctuation marks. You'll never have to worry about forgetting your login information again with these online lockers.

"123456 remained the worst password used in 2014."

Make sure the computer is protected
Having a secure login is great, but not if your computer is vulnerable to viruses and forms of malware. Windows and Macintosh users are susceptible to all kinds of threats, despite what some computer users may believe. If you're a user of either system, you want to set up a firewall on the machine, and potentially your home network. Firewalls are designed to protect the machine and network from destructive elements.

When it comes to an antivirus program, you'll want to potentially choose from the list created by PC Magazine. While the programs do cost money, you'll rest a little easier knowing your system is secure at all times.

Go with a VPN
As another line of defense, consider creating a virtual private network. Currently, when you go online, your computer broadcasts a unique IP address, according to Forbes contributor Amadou Diallo. This information is typically not encrypted, meaning it isn't very secure, and cyber criminals can record your Internet usage with relative ease. A VPN creates a layer of security because it encrypts information. The theft of information is made even more difficult because this server may not even be located in your city.

Most VPNs have a monthly or annual subscription, which in many instances, is worth the cost.

Use common sense
You can implement the strongest passwords and most secure VPN currently possible, but none of that will matter if your Internet habits are reckless. When it comes to spending time online, everyone has to have some common sense about malicious websites. For instance, ad blockers are a must-have and can even warn you when a website you want to visit may be harmful to your computer.

"A VPN creates a layer of security because it encrypts information."

On the other hand, you don't have to download every program imaginable. Often times, the machine you buy is more than suitable right out of the box, meaning there is little need to install third party software. If you do have to install a program, always research it beforehand and check various publications for their recommendations and reviews. Finally, you don't have to click on everything. Even one wrong click can infect your computer with a piece of code that creates a backdoor for a hacker to enter through.

Internet security is essential for those who utilize online banking. By utilizing strong passwords and other strong, secure methods, you're safeguarding against potential attacks and keeping financial information safe.

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