Doing business online can be risky. Online banking websites, online shopping, Online Transactions, and an endless supply of apps that want your credit card details are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to threats to the money your small business earns online. While these are all convenient ways to bank, shop, and do business, there’s a group of people out there who make a living off of this convenience—hackers.
This is usually due to two issues: the weak security of these apps and websites, and your naivety in dealing with online life. This article will look at simple ways for you to protect your business, and yourself, online.
Securing your banking details, and protecting your money online
Your security online will come down to you and the choices you make online. I’ll break those choices down into categories to better organize how you think about your online activity.
Links that you’re sent, or find online:
- Never automatically assume that a link is safe. If it isn’t clearly displayed you can hover over it. Your browser should show you the URL (the web address) in the bottom lefthand corner. Is it a website you recognize and trust? Click it. If it isn’t, assess whether it’s worth the risk. Tools like net can also help you determine the website owner.
- When doing online banking you should find the website’s URL and bookmark it when you’re certain you have the right website. Never go to your bank from a link in an email, a social media website, a chat room, or from banner ads. All can be faked and harm you.
- Online shopping links are also to be treated in the same way. Trusting a link on a social media website, even to a website you know, is also risky. Manually type the URL into the address bar yourself.
On communications with your bank:
- Beware of communications from your bank which state that they need you to email them information. There are no reputable banks that will do this. Contact them by phone directly, or visit your local branch before ever trusting these types of communications. This is a classic phishing scam tactic.
- Do not follow the links in messages which state you need to visit them to authorize something. Type in the URL for your bank yourself and see if there’s anything within your bank account which needs to be authorized. For any concerns contact your bank directly.
- Never enter data into pop-up windows. No trusted bank would have you do anything off of their main webpage. Pop-ups are for advertising.
On encryption and advanced protection:
- The most basic protection you’ll get online is from the website itself. Every time you see an ‘HTTPS’ at the beginning of a URL, rather than ‘HTTP,’ your connection is encrypted. You may also see a green lock on the far left or right of your web browser. HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension that you can use to force websites to take you to their encrypted HTTPS version.
- Make sure that HTTPS is being used every time you enter any sort of information related to your banking. This includes your login details, password, and credit card numbers on retail websites.
- Use a VPN for added encryption when you are doing online banking or online shopping. This adds a layer of encrypted protection protocols above the HTTPS, giving you complete peace of mind.
- If you simply MUST do some sort of online transaction involving money using public WiFi, turning on your VPN could save you. This applies to using your own device on a network, as keyloggers still exist on public computers and they should never, ever be used.
Doing any type of online transaction:
- It is never advisable to do any sort of online shopping, or online banking, on a public computer. Keyloggers are a major concern on these machines.
- Be cautious using public WiFi to do any banking transactions, especially on banking apps. Public WiFi has no security guarantees, and banking apps have lower security measures than the bank’s website. Another frequent problem is network worms and man in the middle attacks.
- Every single time you click a link to go to another page on a website you need to do a quick check of the address. Are you still on the right website, or have you been taken away from it by a malicious redirect?
- Always read reviews from independent websites before making a purchase from any website. Look for review websites that are not affiliated with the website and do not trust the reviews left by their customers. These comments can be built in by the website and used as bait.
- Having a separate banking card set aside exclusively for your online purchases, and separate from your main bank account, can protect you if your information is ever stolen. Pre-loaded cards, and cards with a limit, can keep hackers from stealing everything.
Vulnerabilities on your own computer:
- Consistently updating your operating system, all software, and web browser is a free way to protect your money online. A large percentage of updates to these are specifically for security vulnerabilities.
- Use an antivirus software package to keep malware off your computer. There are millions of computers out there which are part of botnets, being remotely controlled and monitored without the owner’s awareness. A good antivirus program is designed to stop these programs.
- Delete old and outdated programs. If there hasn’t been an update lately, or if the software is no longer supported, you need to delete it. These older programs can be full of holes for malware that the original team never even thought of as years pass.
There are many tools out there to help, and websites are working hard to use encryption on their connections and servers, but your online security comes down to you. This is because you have to make the choice to keep your computer updated, to use a VPN, to stay off public WiFi when doing transactions, and to make sure you’re using the right website. If you are not making these choices, and helping yourself, there’s nothing that I, or anyone else, can do to protect your money or secure your banking information for you.