Protecting your banking data on smartphones

With the recent rise in data breaches which compromised the personal information of millions of Americans, crooks have made alarming inroads into the data landscape. With millions of cell phones accessing their bank accounts billions of times each week, it’s more important than ever for us to protect our data stored on cell phones and other mobile devices.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) on Wednesday released a survey showing that one in 10 consumers prefer banking on their mobile devices, a tenfold increase since 2001.

Indeed, according to figures released earlier this year by the Federal Reserve, around 87 percent of U.S. residents 18 and over had access to a mobile device, with 6 of 10 of those considered smartphones and connected to the Internet. A third of those reported using their phones to do online banking, including checking their balances, transferring funds, making payments and even depositing checks.

And banks are trying to keep up with the demand, adding new features all the time to increase convenience for their customers. (Look for voice control soon; it’s already been rolled out at some banks, such as USAA Bank.) But all those fingers tapping on all those screens have attracted the attention of thieves. Ultimately, any site is only as secure as its security measures, so it’s up to us to make sure we don’t make bigger targets of ourselves as we enjoy the convenience.

“Mobile banking provides an unprecedented level of convenience for bank customers, and while it is a safe way to conduct banking transactions, customers need to remember that any device used to connect to the Internet is vulnerable,” said Frank Keating, ABA president and CEO. “Customers play an important role in the work that banks do to protect data.”

ABA suggests following these 12 steps to protect your mobile device:

  • Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your email, texts and other information if your device is lost or stolen.
  • Log out completely and close the app when you finish a mobile banking session.
  • Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren’t very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network.
  • Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  • Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  • Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a social security number on your mobile device.
  • Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  • Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  • Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  • Be aware of “shoulder surfers”. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.
  • Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  • Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.
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