Is it safer to bank by phone or com­puter?

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - TECH - Mar­garette Bur­nette

Two-thirds of Amer­i­cans use mo­bile or on­line bank­ing as their main way to ac­cess their ac­counts. If you be­long to that group, chances are you lean heav­ily on a smart­phone or com­puter to pull up your bank in­for­ma­tion.

But both gad­gets also hap­pen to be pop­u­lar tar­gets for on­line fraud­sters itch­ing to in­fil­trate your ac­counts.

Could one of these de­vices bet­ter pro­tect you from fraud than the other? We put the ques­tion to three se­cu­rity ex­perts.

Kyle Mar­chini, se­nior an­a­lyst in fraud man­age­ment with re­search­based ad­vi­sory firm Javelin Strat­egy & Re­search: “I give bank apps on mo­bile de­vices the edge when it comes to safety,” Mar­chini says. With com­put­ers, he says, it is eas­ier to in­ad­ver­tently down­load mal­ware from hack­ers.

For ex­am­ple, mal­ware key­log­ger pro­grams might be se­cretly in­stalled as part of a down­load from a non­se­cure web­page. These pro­grams record key­strokes when you en­ter your user­name and pass­word on a bank site, then send that in­for­ma­tion to a hacker.

With mo­bile apps, users have to man­u­ally agree to down­loads from the de­vice’s ap­proved app store. That makes it harder to mis­tak­enly down­load ma­li­cious pro­grams that can spy on you while you’re bank­ing, Mar­chini says.

❚ A caveat: Avoid log­ging in to your bank ac­count us­ing pub­lic Wi-Fi. You don’t know who has ac­cess to the net­work traf­fic and whether they can view the data you send. For bet­ter on­line bank­ing se­cu­rity, Mar­chini ad­vises us­ing your cel­lu­lar net­work.

❚ Pro tips: Skip the mo­bile browser and use your fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion’s of­fi­cial app in­stead. There’s less chance of you nav­i­gat­ing to a fake bank site that way, Mar­chini says. As le­git as some fake pages may look, they are ac­tu­ally so-called “phish­ing” at­tempts from hack­ers that can trick you into sub­mit­ting your pass­words or other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

Use a screen lock, too. That way, oth­ers can’t ac­cess your data if your de­vice is stolen.

Ja­son Glass­berg, co-founder of cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm Casaba Se­cu­rity: “Ei­ther com­puter or smart­phone could be ap­pro­pri­ate, depend­ing on your lo­ca­tion,” Glass­berg says. If you’re at a ho­tel or li­brary and need to take care of a bank­ing task, you are safer us­ing your smart­phone con­nected to cel­lu­lar data than you would be us­ing a pub­lic com­puter on an un­fa­mil­iar net­work, he adds, echo­ing Mar­chini’s ad­vice.

But if you are at home on your se­cure pri­vate net­work and are us­ing anti-virus pro­tec­tion, us­ing your com­puter might suit you bet­ter. “Chances are it is a lot eas­ier to make a funds trans­fer on a large com­puter screen than a small mo­bile one,” Glass­berg says.

❚ A caveat: Click­ing on un­fa­mil­iar links can bring trou­ble, no mat­ter the de­vice. Ap­proach links from un­known email or text sources with cau­tion – they could be con­nected to mal­ware or phish­ing scams.

❚ A pro tip: Avoid dig­i­tal bank­ing on smart­phones that have mod­i­fied op­er­at­ing sys­tems, such as jail­bro­ken de­vices for Ap­ple phones and rooted de­vices in the case of An­droids. These smart­phones have in­ten­tion­ally sidestepped se­cu­rity to give peo­ple ac­cess to apps that haven’t been ap­proved by app stores, Glass­berg says.

Be­cause pro­tec­tions have been re­moved, the third-party apps might con­tain mal­ware. They might, for ex­am­ple, be able to spy on your mo­bile phone ac­tiv­ity, in­clud­ing your use of bank­ing apps.

Ran­dal Wolver­ton, a cer­ti­fied pub­lic ac­coun­tant who serves on the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of CPAs’ Foren­sic and Lit­i­ga­tion Ser­vices fraud task force: “My pref­er­ence is to bank with com­put­ers in a se­cure en­vi­ron­ment, as thieves may find smart­phones more at­trac­tive to at­tack,” he says.

Since smart­phones travel with you, they give fraud­sters unique op­por­tu­ni­ties. If a cus­tomer is stand­ing in line at a gro­cery store and de­cides to check her bank bal­ance on her phone, some­one could be look­ing over her shoul­der and guess the pass­word. That kind of sit­u­a­tion is un­likely to arise when bank­ing on a com­puter at home, Wolver­ton says.

❚ A caveat: Stay up to date with com­puter se­cu­rity re­leases. Oth­er­wise, your com­puter bank trans­ac­tions could still be ex­posed, Wolver­ton says.

❚ A pro tip: Team up with your bank. Take ad­van­tage of two-fac­tor au­then­ti­ca­tion and sign up for fraud alerts. To­gether, you can work to help make sure your ac­counts are safe and pro­tected. Email: mbur­[email protected]­ NerdWal­let is a USA TO­DAY con­tent part­ner pro­vid­ing gen­eral news, com­men­tary and cov­er­age from around the web. Its con­tent is pro­duced in­de­pen­dently of USA TO­DAY.


Ex­perts say the best place to bank on­lkine is at home on a com­puter with se­cure Wi-Fi. But smart­phones are best in some sit­u­a­tions.

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