There are news reports almost daily about how hackers are able to gain access to the bank accounts of innocent victims and rip off thousands and thousands of dollars. In today’s article, Intersections’ Consumer Security Adviser Neal O’Farrell explains what you need to do to keep your hard-earned money out of the hands of hackers and criminals. A must read!.
The title of this article could just as easily have been "How to make half a million bucks a month from the comfort of your computer." I was reading recently about how a twenty-something hacker from Russia managed to steal more than $3.2 million in just six months simply by pushing out malware designed to sneak on to unprotected computers, steal banking passwords, and empty bank accounts. His efforts paid off to the tune of around $17,000 a day, give or take.
The hacker goes by the nickname Soldier, and according to research by security firm Trend Micro, he managed to infect more than 25,000 computers in the three months leading up to June of this year using a malware toolkit that is freely available on the Internet.
His success, at infecting so many computers and making so much money in such a short time frame, should be a warning to every consumer to be ever vigilant when it comes to online banking. Soldier is one only of probably thousands of hackers using the same or similar crime kits to plunder online bank accounts.
So if you want to avoid being Soldier's next victim, here are some simple tips to beef up your defenses.
1. Lock down your computer. Every computer should be protected by multiple layers of security, including anti-virus and other malware protection, encryption to protect your data, browser security to steer you away from malicious web sites etc.
2. Beef up your passwords. Weak passwords are your worst enemy — make them strong, random, and original. No sense in creating one strong password and then using it for every web site you know.
3. Sign up for alerts. Most financial institutions provide email or text alerts when certain things happen with your account — a transfer is attempted, an ATM withdrawal is made, or a check more than a certain amount is presented. Sign up for these alerts because they can be your earliest warning that something's not right.
4. Be very careful with the apps you use. Apps are great, especially if they're free. But apps are the wild west of security, with little control over who makes and sells them, and how securely the code is written. So use as few apps as you need and only from trusted sources.
5. Think twice about mobile banking. While banking from your smart phone sounds like a great idea, it's still in its infancy and new security holes are being discovered daily. If you're not completely confident about the security of your smartphone, stick to doing your online banking from a computer you do trust. Or at least trust a little more.
6. Don't access your bank account over a public Wi-Fi network. It's very easy to snoop on any computers using Wi-Fi networks in places like coffee shops and hotels. So much better to wait until you get home before checking your balances or paying bills.
7. Limit access to your computer. The fewer people who have access to your computer, the less risk you have of compromise. So it might be smart to ban family members from using the computer you use to bank online. That way, you won't be at risk from their mistakes or bad habits.
8. Consider using a separate computer just for online banking. That's the advice of the security expert who discovered the first banking Trojan a couple of years ago. If you use a separate computer just for online banking, you reduce the risk of malware sneaking on to your computer through drive-by downloads, infected attachments etc.
9. Use a keylogger prevention system, like PRIVACYPROTECT® which comes free with your IDENTITY GUARD® TOTAL PROTECTION(SM) membership, to protect your passwords from being snooped upon. Keyloggers are able to sniff and steal logins and passwords by monitoring what you type on your keyboard, but products like ID Vault allow you to bypass the keyboard and enter your login credentials using a virtual keyboard instead.
10. Take Facebook security very seriously. It's not only an easy way for thieves to deliver the kind of malware that can steal your bank account login and password, it's also a great way for thieves to find the answers to the most common "secret" questions — like the city you were born, your first pet, favorite teacher, and mother's maiden name.