Public Wi-Fi is handy, but be careful sending passwords over it. Wi-Fi makes it easy to access information and do business online — whether you’re around the house, around town, or anywhere around the world. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. The fact that data is broadcast to anybody in range means that your information could be at risk, and that’s especially risky when you use Wi-Fi for online banking.
Avoiding Wi-Fi altogether is not realistic, but you should be aware of the risks you take when using free public Wi-Fi and make sure you have the proper safeguards at home.
You don’t even need to access financial accounts to expose yourself to risk. Simply connecting to a wireless network to find the nearest bakery can cause problems, although the risk might be small. When your device connects to the internet, any number of applications running in the background might take the opportunity to go online (to check for updates or new messages, for example).
What’s the risk of letting those applications run wild? Some of the information they send might not be encrypted. It might not be sensitive personal information, but it could be useful information for thieves. Potential leaks include your email address, usernames that you’re fond of, and the name of your bank. With those details, thieves can piece together enough information to do some kind of damage (whether that’s getting into your bank accounts or stealing your identity) or mount a social engineering attack.
How does this happen? When you use Wi-Fi, your device broadcasts everything you send over the airwaves. Any computer within range can “listen” to that communication, although ideally, the information is encrypted so that only authorized devices understand it.
At some point, you’re going to find the need to conduct financial business on Wi-Fi, whether it’s checking your balance before a major purchase or depositing a check. So what can you do to keep your information safe, whether you’re out and about or just banking from the couch?
Stay up-to-date: Keep your operating system updated, whether you use a mobile device, laptop, or desktop. Using outdated software is like leaving your door unlocked — hackers know how to get it, and it’s easy to fix most vulnerabilities with an update. If you don’t enable automatic updates, pay attention to notifications (especially if they reference important security patches).
Make sure your router is secure and up-to-date. If you haven’t yet changed your default password on your internet router, stop right now and take a few minutes to do it. The FBI is recommending this because of the potential for known malware. They also recommend you reboot your router regularly.
Use cellular networks: If you have a data plan, use your cellular network instead of Wi-Fi for banking. It’s still possible for thieves to get into those networks, but it’s not nearly as easy as hacking Wi-Fi. If you can also tether other devices or set up a mobile hotspot, do that — at least while you conduct banking business.
Control your devices: Don’t set your laptop or mobile device to “connect automatically” when it finds available networks. Thieves can set up a fake Wi-Fi network very easily, and they often give those networks commonly used names (like Free Wi-Fi, Airport Wi-Fi, or Hotel Wi-Fi). Always ask which network to connect to.
Use any security available: Set up extra security to help prevent unauthorized logins. For example, two-factor authentication makes it much harder for hackers to log in to your account.
Use security software: Security software goes a long way towards keeping you out of trouble. Keep antivirus and firewall programs up to date, and use a virtual private network (VPN) to access sensitive information over public Wi-Fi. Avoid jailbreaking or rooting your mobile device, as doing so can make secure devices and apps much less secure.
Trust your browser: Your web browser wants to help you stay safe. When visiting secure sites, make sure that “https:” appears in the address bar, and look for the padlock icon. If you get any warnings (such as untrusted certificates or similar) — especially unexpected warnings while using Wi-Fi away from home — wait until you’re on a secure network access bank accounts.
Monitor your account: Whether or not you bank on public Wi-Fi, it’s wise to review your accounts regularly. Doing so helps you spot errors and signs of fraud — plus you’ll probably pay fewer overdraft fees. A quick scan through transactions is a good start, but you can also balance your account monthly for a more thorough review. Federal law protects you from errors and fraud in your account, but you need to act fast to get those benefits.
For the most part, financial websites and apps protect your information by encrypting it before sending it over a network. As a result, your information is secure, even if thieves are listening. Your browser should show you when you’re on a secure site by displaying a padlock icon and showing “https” (the “s” is the important part) in the address bar.
However, the appearance of a secure site is no guarantee. If you connect to a compromised network (meaning somebody installed malicious software on the Wi-Fi equipment), hackers can hijack traffic so that you go to a fake “secure” site instead of a legitimate website. Even if you use a bookmark or type in the web address correctly, you’ll end up on an impostor page that looks just like the real deal.
You might think that mobile apps are a little bit safer (they’re probably harder to attack than a web page on a browser), but that may be a false sense of security. Still, it’s harder to end up at an impostor site if you use an app.
© Copyright 2018 The Balance. All Rights Reserved.
It’s a money leak that no one’s talking about: Nearly one in four Americans helps support a parent financially, according to a Care.com survey. But most families don’t discuss the issue — or the dollars involved — until a health or other crisis arises, says Jody Gastfriend, vice president of senior care at Care.com.Continue Reading
IRAs. Roth IRAs. 401(k)s. SEP IRAs.
Simple IRAs. Considering all the different types of retirement accounts can get a little dizzying. With all these options, where should you be socking away your retirement dollars?
To protect against floods, some people build houses on stilts or pilings. For tornadoes, there are storm cellars. And in the event of a fire, most buildings have (mandatory) smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. There’s no doubt the idea of a disaster can be terrifying, but in many cases they can be avoided—or at least insured against—with some smart planning...Continue Reading
“Abode Services is one of the largest and most effective nonprofits fighting to end homelessness in the Bay Area” says Abode Services Community Landlord Retention Coordinator Audrey Kwon.Continue Reading
Credit unions are a great place to keep your money and get loans. They’re usually a safe bet for finding free checking, and rates on savings accounts and loans are competitive. What’s more, these institutions are typically local, so they keep money (and their attention) in the same community you live in...Continue Reading
You can’t blame parents for wanting to help their adult children. But when they fork over cash for their kids’ daily living expenses, parents may jeopardize their children’s long-term financial success — and put their own retirement at risk..Continue Reading
Will the new tax law save you money or cost you money? The answer depends on a complex array of factors that touch on just about every aspect of your financial life. This article is about a subset of your finances: How the tax law will affect homeownership and mortgages...Continue Reading