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Online banking security

How safe is online banking?

By Chiara Cavaglieri

Article 1 of 2

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Which? has rated 12 of the biggest UK banks on the security of their online banking systems. How does your bank's online security measure up?

Best and worst banks for internet banking security

In August 2017, we rated the customer-facing security of 12 leading online banks. Volunteers carried out a series of tasks, while a team of experts from cybersecurity firm SureCloud looked for weaknesses.

The table below shows how each bank fared for the main factors we tested, or you can skip straight to:

Online banking security: rated by Which? 

Members can log in to see the results of our analysis. If you’re not already a member, you can sign up to a two month trial for Which? Money for just £1 to access this review and enjoy the benefits of a Which? membership.

  Login Encryption Account management Navigation and log out Total score
Subscriber only content 84%
Subscriber only content 80%
Subscriber only content 76%
Subscriber only content 75%
Subscriber only content 71%
Subscriber only content 68%
Subscriber only content 65%
Subscriber only content 64%
Subscriber only content 63%
Subscriber only content 60%
Subscriber only content 57%
Subscriber only content 56%

Find out more: Bank accounts – more than 50 current accounts rated

Online banking security: what you need to know

All providers have processes that aren’t visible in the type of testing we carried out – we can only analyse security features available to the customer  – but our tests compared banks on the following: 
  • Login We checked what information banks asked us to provide to access the accounts, as well as login recovery process and minimum username or password strength.
  • Encryption Encrypted data is scrambled so that only you and your bank can read it as it’s transmitted across the internet. The more complicated the cipher strength, the harder it is for a cybercriminal to crack the code, so we checked that a secure level of encryption was used.
  • Account management We marked banks down if they let us set up new payees or change passwords and addresses with no additional checks. If a criminal hacks into your account, it shouldn’t be easy for them to transfer money or get hold of a new debit card.
  • Navigation and logout You should only be able to log in to your bank from one computer at a time, and hitting the logout button should instantly close your session. Banks lost points if they let us use the browser’s back button or visit an external site before returning to the online banking session without being asked to  log in again.

We were disappointed that The Co-operative Bank, Lloyds Banking Group (Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds Bank), NatWest, Santander and TSB are yet to adopt two-factor authentication, also known as 2FA, at login, despite having the technology to do so. 

Passwords alone are no longer good enough, as weak login details can be easily guessed or gleaned from social media sites. So, 2FA combines two steps to identify account holders – often something you know, such as a password or Pin, plus something you have, such as a card reader or mobile phone, which generates a single-use passcode.

It may seem heavy-handed to force customers to use a second device. But if a hacker was able to penetrate the first layer of defence, they would have access to much more sensitive details, such as payment history and card numbers, which could make any subsequent scam attempts more convincing.

The biggest threat to banking security comes from using a compromised device. And this applies whether you’re using a computer or a smartphone. 

Although phones are more easily lost or stolen, apps are in some ways safer than using a computer to log in to your bank account. 

This is because apps in the official app stores are vetted by Apple and Google, whereas PCs can run software from any source. It's also more difficult to plant a keylogger in an Android or iOS device (software used to track every key you press and potentially steal usernames and passwords). 

Smartphones can also be located, locked and even wiped of data remotely if they are lost or stolen (by registering for Google ‘Find My Device’ and Apple ‘Find My iPhone’). 

Of course mobile banking isn’t risk-free – fake apps can turn up in app stores and malware does exist that specifically targets mobile phones. 

Also, some banking apps are less restrictive than others. For example, all but two apps in our test (HSBC and Nationwide) let you transfer money to new payees, with limits ranging from £250 through to £30,000. 

Most banks let customers use fingerprint ID to log in (only Co-op, HSBC and Santander prevent this) though it is safer to identify yourself using a password or passcode, as well as your fingerprint or voice.

Take our fraud risk quiz 

10 ways to protect yourself against fraud and scams 

Criminals are constantly inventing new ways to try to get their hands on your money. 

Phishing emails are sent by criminals posing as genuine companies such as a bank or HMRC. Clicking on a link takes you to a fake website where fraudsters steal financial or personal details. 

Or, the link might install malware on your computer as another means to capture details. Thieves can steal your password by tricking you into installing a program on your computer that secretly records your password when you type. 

Telephone fraud, or vishing, is particularly sneaky. Fraudsters call up pretending to be the police or your bank’s fraud department and warn you that your account has been compromised to trick you into revealing your full password, or persuade you to move your money somewhere ‘safe’. 

Some tell you to call the genuine number for your bank to ‘verify’ the call, then play a dialling tone while they stay on the line, before posing as your bank and conning you into giving them sensitive information.

Remember, your bank would never ask for your full Pin or passwords on the phone or via email, and they would never ask you to authorise a transfer of money to a new account. 

Stay one step ahead: Learn these seven ways to spot a scam and follow these tips to keep the cash in your bank account safe:

1. Take your time 

Treat unsolicited phone calls, letters, emails and texts with caution. 

Fraudsters use pressure tactics to persuade you to share personal and financial details so don’t let anyone rush you and never share your Pin or online passwords (your bank will never ask for these in full).

2. Use a phone number you trust 

If you’re in any doubt as to who’s calling, hang up. Make sure the line is clear, and then call the organisation on a phone number you trust, such as the one on the back of your payment card. 

3. Use antivirus software 

Make sure your computer or laptop is protected with a good security software program and antivirus software. Keep them all, along with your browser, up to date. 

Visit our guide to choosing antivirus software so you can find the best package to keep you safe. 

4. Create strong passwords 

Different banks have different security measures for online banking but if you have to set up a password, make sure it is a mixture of letters and numbers, and is different from an email password. 

Don't write your passwords down in full or share them with anyone. Find out how to create the perfect password.

5. Use a secure network 

If you have a wireless network at home, activate the security settings on your router to prevent others accessing it. Avoid accessing your bank account from a public computer or unsecured wireless network. 

If you do use a public computer, never leave it unattended and always log out properly when you've finished your banking session.

6. Be wary of links 

Avoid clicking links and downloading attachments from emails and texts. 

Type web addresses into the address bar of your browser manually instead.

7. Browse safely 

Look for a padlock symbol in or next to the address bar in your browser and that the web address changes from starting with 'http' to 'https'. 

This doesn't guarantee a site can be trusted, but it does mean the website is encrypted, so no one else but that website can read any card details or passwords you enter. 

Some sites have an extended validation (EV) certificate, shown as a green padlock alongside the company name, also in green. Again, it’s not perfect, but it requires the company to undergo more rigorous checks.

8. Remove personal info from social media 

Don't leave your email address, date of birth, or phone number on sites such as Facebook and Twitter – it increases your risk of identity theft. Only accept friend requests from people you know. 

Someone posing as an interesting person asking to become your friend may actually be an ID thief. 

Check your privacy settings carefully and make sure only people you trust can view your profile. 

9. Scan your statements 

Regularly check your bank account and credit card statements for suspicious transactions. 

If you spot something unfamiliar, report it to your bank or card provider as soon as you can.

10. Use ATMs inside the bank 

Try to shield your Pin in case there are cameras fitted by criminals above the keypad.  Or, stick to in-branch machines, which are less likely to have been tampered with than one on the high street.

What to do if you're a victim of bank fraud 

Check your account online regularly to spot any irregularities and contact your bank as soon as possible if you think you've been a victim of fraud.

Your bank must refund unauthorised transactions and restore your account to the state it would have been in had the transaction not be made, unless it can prove that you've acted fraudulently or been grossly negligent.

They can't refuse to refund you based on a hunch – they must investigate properly – but banks don't always get this right. Which? Money has obtained exclusive data from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) revealing the card providers handling fraud claims poorly.

Know your rights: Find out what to do if you have given a fraudster your bank details

Bank-transfer scams 

Sadly, you're far less likely to get a refund if you've been tricked into transferring money. For example, if a fraudster called up, posing as your bank's fraud department, and convinced you to move your money into a new account (by pretending yours had been compromised) your bank may not be liable to cover losses, because you authorised the payment.

They should try to recover the funds once notified of a scam – and you could have grounds to complain if they failed to do so – but it isn’t legally obliged to refund payments that you technically authorise.

Victims of bank transfer scams can lose eye-watering sums so Which? wants banks to introduce better safeguards to protect their customers. We've been putting pressure on the regulator to better protect consumers and help victims get their money back.

Find out more: The regulator has responded to our super-complaint on bank transfer scams.

  • Last updated: February 2018
  • Updated by: Chiara Cavaglieri

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