How to really improve your online security

Photo courtesy of Peter Vasquez via freeforcommercialuse.org
Photo courtesy of Peter Vasquez via freeforcommercialuse.org

It is impossible to work today without going online – and often using a smartphone too.

So, how do you keep your information secure in this increasingly wireless world?

Let’s look at banking information, because if you get this right and apply the same security principles to your other information you will be pretty safe.

First, think passwords. The trouble with these is remembering them all. It’s impossible to remember multiple passwords, and storing them on your computer or in a drawer isn’t secure. However, most people can remember three or four passwords. And, so long as these contain letters, numbers and some other characters, such as a ‘!’, ‘@’ or ‘&’, they are hard to crack in a reasonable timeframe.

So, having sorted out your passwords, what about general security? Well, the best banking security is based on three things: something you know; something you have, and something you are.

The something you know is your password, but this isn’t safe by itself, as key-logging software can track passwords. (This can be installed on your computer by a hacker) So, something you are that is uniquely you, such as your fingerprint or retina image, gives you two-factor security. Fortunately, this type of identification is becoming more mainstream – the iPhone 5S, for example, comes with fingerprint identification.

So what about the something you have? This is usually the answer to a question only you should know, but it is often not very secure. If you are ordinary Mr or Ms McCall, Google is unlikely to unearth your mother’s maiden name – a popular dumb security question. But if you are well known it is an insecure question. So, if possible, generate your own obscure security questions and answer these to improve on this process.

Which brings us to security dongles. These are used by some banks as an extra ‘something you have’ and offered to business customers.

Small USB stick-like devices, dongles usually contain a very accurate clock that keeps the same time as another clock at the bank and is used to generate pseudo-random numbers, giving you a new password every time you use the device.

But, while you wait for your bank to offer you a dongle, a complex password that uses some less obvious characters will go a long way towards protecting you online.

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