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First things first: online banking portals are actually quite safe. Most financial institutions use world-class security and encryption to keep their customers' data as safe as possible, and they employ experts to continually improve security. The vast majority of online security breaches are not the result of poor systems, but rather occur when account holders unwittingly give up their usernames and passwords. In this article, we aim to explain how you can keep your log-on details safe by taking a few precautionary measures and practicing a little diligence.

Use a strong password

It doesn't really matter if someone gains unauthorized access to your Netflix password, but you'd have a real problem if someone cracked your online banking password. It wouldn't take them even a minute for them to drain your account. The bottomline is that if you have to remember just one strong password, make it your online banking password. The ideal password is at least eight characters long, has both higher and lower case letters, and contains numbers and special characters. Howsecureismypassword.net can help you test the strength of your password.

Don't record your password or PIN anywhere

This should obvious - your password should only be in your head. You may think that it's okay to store your password in a password manager, but that's not secure enough. Someone only has to learn you computer password to access all your other online passwords. That's a real risk if you regularly use your laptop in a public space. By making a habit of logging onto your online banking regularly, you'll remember even a strong password.

Use your own data

Ideally, you'd only access your online banking account from your secure home network, but sometimes you have to make a transaction while you're out and about. In these situations it is much safer to use your cellular data instead of public wifi. It's a lot harder for criminals to sniff your cellular data stream than to snag passwords from a public wifi network. Better yet, use your banking app, which offers an additional level of security.

Use a VPN

If you absolutely have to use public wi-fi, you should at least use a VPN to encrypt your traffic. Commercial VPNs like Private Internet Access and Norton Hotspot Privacy are ad-free, with more power and flexibility. But free VPNs like Hotspot Shield can also be very effective at safeguarding your connection. Just note that logging in using a VPN changes your IP address, which may cause the website to require an extra layer of authentication.

Get a security suite

If you don't already have one, you should definitely install a security suite for protection against damaging viruses and password-stealing Trojans. Though features vary from product to product, a security suite should contain these essentials: anti-malware, anti-phishing, email protection, identity protection and firewall. The Mac versions of popular security suites like Norton and McAfee are generally pared down, but this is only because these machines have a level of built-in security.

Monitor activity on your account

Make a point of logging in several times a week, or even daily, to check recent activity. The sooner you detect a breach and report it to your bank, the better your chances that you will be able to regain control of your money. And by logging on regularly, you are also more likely to remember your password. Alternatively, you can also enable sms or email notifications to keep you informed of account activity.

Familiarise yourself with phishing tactics

No reputable bank will send you an email asking you to provide any of your login details. If you receive such an email, treat it with suspicion. Also, be particularly aware of links in emails that appear to be from your 'bank' as this is a trick often employed by criminals to get you to visit a fraudulent website that looks like your bank. When you log into 'your account', they then steal your username and password, thereby gaining access to your real account.

Learn more

For more useful money-related tips, sign up for our Money Mailer. In this free monthly newsletter, we serve up articles on topics ranging from budgeting to borrowing and everything in between. If you've ever wanted to know how to save for university, how to reduce your living expenses, or how to improve your credit score, the insights in these articles can leave you wiser, wealthier, and better equipped to make the most of your money.

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