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Jul 28, 2008

Do you know why banking online is unsafe?

Banking online is unsafe

Techie, the whiz kid, guides you through technology on: Do you know why banking online is unsafe?

Banking online may prove out to be time-saving and hassle-free, but have you ever thought about how unsafe it is? Many of you may argue to differ! But, actually banking online is riskier than assumed! Even a recent study by University of Michigan researchers confirmed this. The researchers found design flaws in 76 percent of the 214 U.S. financial institution websites that include top banks.

In fact, many banks make their online customers take risks with their passwords and other sensitive account information, leaving them open to internet frauds. The result is that even the most security-conscious Web surfers could also find themselves as victims of identity theft because they have been made habituated to ignore potential clues about whether the banking site they are visiting is real or a fake site served up by hackers.

Also, there are many banks that redirect users to third-party sites, where pop-ups like ‘secure login’ boxes crop up on insecure Web pages.

Moreover, the banks improperly use Social Security numbers or e-mail addresses — which an outsider that is an efficient hacker can figure out as default ‘user names’.

All of these banking practices put online banking customers at serious risk.

But actually, there are no basic problems with the bank websites' coding that could allow hackers to break in. Instead, it’s the design flaws of the bank sites that guide online banking customers to bad surfing habits.

One of the biggest problems is that even if the login boxes on banks' pages are properly secured (meaning they send and receive encrypted data through a technology known as Secure Sockets Layer or in short, SSL), the full page itself, in some cases, is usually not protected with the same technology — so it becomes more difficult to tell whether the site is real or fake. [SSL-equipped sites show a padlock icon in the address bar which ensure the secured encryption technology and assure that the site's owner is legitimate.]

Again, when users are not notified that they are being taken to another site (when a bank uses a partner site for online bill payments) — then it becomes hard to determine if the new site is trustworthy, because the online registration certificate carries a different company's name.

So even the most tech savvy of the online banking customers could fall victim to ‘phishing’ scams because they are supposed to enter personal information into the site that is not their bank's — and has not been clearly certified by the bank.

Here, the hackers could easily take advantage by sending them fake pages, dressed up like the bank's website. That site would then redirect to another site under the hacker's control, and users might not question the redirection.

Thus it is nearly quite impossible for the online banking customers to play safe. However, whatever little they can do is not click on the links sent in e-mails. At least, this way they can reduce the risks to an extent, if not completely avoid the hacking possibilities when doing online banking transactions.

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