20 Nov 2015 19:02 IST

Passwords to plug security holes

Those who access bank or other important accounts on the go have to be aware of network risks

Doing your transactions online — paying bills, making purchases and transferring money — can be very convenient. But there is also the lingering security risk that one must be aware of. So, here are a few tips that can provide safety to your online transactions.

Password protection

Take the case of managing passwords. Almost every site that deals with money requires you to login with a password. The level of protection your account gets depends mainly on the strength of your password. But unfortunately many of us use our own or a family member's date of birth as the code since it is easy to remember.

Such short or easy to guess passwords offer very weak protection. You must use long codes that include special characters, upper case alphabets and random numbers; these are difficult for an intruder to crack.

And given that we may access multiple sites, it may seem convenient to reuse the same code in multiple places. This is not a good practice and, ideally, the password must be unique for each of your accounts. It is also good to change your password from time to time.

But creating unique passwords may not serve the purpose if you have saved them in electronic form such as in an email. There is a risk that this data can be compromised. If you can't remember your complex passwords, consider installing password manager software that requires a single password. These tools help you login to different sites by storing the password securely.

Two factor authentications

Some portals now offer two factor authentications — a password and a code that will be sent to your phone. It is good to make use of such extra security measures. Also, when keying in your password, use the virtual keyboard option if it is available.

Using this option, rather than a the keyboard, can protect you from any malicious software that may be recording your key strokes and sending them to an intruder. This is particularly important when you are using a shared computer or you are not sure of the security level of the network connection.

Secure access

Those who access bank or other important accounts on the go have to be aware of network risks. For instance, many locations such as airports offer free Wi-Fi connection.

But before you connect and start retrieving sensitive information, ensure that the network service is trustworthy. A recent study done at Bengaluru airport showed that users were unaware of such risks and their data was vulnerable to hacks.

So how do you verify the connection is secure? The Wi-Fi hotspot must ask for SMS verification and if there is no authentication, it is best to avoid using it. You must also create and use your own Virtual Private Network (VPN). This special software creates an encrypted channel to protect even an unsecured connection from any attempts to intercept information.

You must also not save your browsing history, passwords and other private data in the computer. This is especially true when using a shared computer system. Log out of your accounts before you close the browser.

Also, be sure to check if the site where you do online transactions has enabled encryption. This means the website address must start with https instead of http. Besides, when buying online, you must do diligence on the seller and terms of the product purchase and return. Insist on making payments through legitimate services and not opt for sending money orders. And when you find a deal that is too hard to believe, it may be cause for alarm. Clicking on advertisement links to the deals may lead to malicious code being downloaded into your system.

Sharing data

Even the seemingly harmless postings on social media sites must be done carefully. For example, our date of birth, address, photo and other personal details such as place of work can be used by thieves.

Also, alert your friends to not disclose such important information about you in the public domain. You must also not save critical data such as your card number and details, passwords or ATM pin on your phone or laptop, as there is a risk of these devices being stolen.

Data safety has to be ensured for your system at home as well. For one, you must have good anti-virus and anti-spyware software. These security programmes and your operating system must be updated to the latest version to plug new security holes that may come up from time to time.

You must strictly avoid using pirated content and software as they may security vulnerabilities or worse, end up infecting your system themselves.

You can also consider encrypting the hard drive in your system so that even if the contents are stolen, your data cannot be accessed. It is also a good practice to keep your devices turned off and also disconnect network access when not in use.

This will minimise the risk of someone breaking into your system when you are not watching.