Oct 15 2009

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where has my money gone

Like most ‘net users I know these days, I conduct most of my financial transactions on-line. But on-line banking is a high risk activity, particularly if you use the “default” OS and browser combination to be found on most PCs. I don’t, but that doesn’t make me invulnerable, just a slightly harder target. So attempts by the banks to make it harder for the bad guys to filch my money are welcome. Many banks seem to be taking the two factor authentication route by supplying their customers with a hardware token of some kind to be used in conjunction with the traditional UID/password.

I have just logged on to my bank to be greeted with a message that they will shortly be introducing a one-time password system. Apparently this system requires me to register my mobile phone number with the bank. Thereafter, for certain “high risk” transactions (such as setting up a new payment to an external account) in addition to requiring my normal UID/password, the bank will send a one-time password to my moblle which I will have to play back to the bank via the web site before the transaction will be authorised. Sounds reasonable? Maybe. Maybe not. I can see some flaws – not least the obvious one that I have to have a mobile phone (probably not an unreasonable assumption) and that I have to be prepared to register that with the bank (slightly less reasonable). But my biggest concern is that this approach fails to take account of the fact that “people do dumb things” (TM).

The bank’s FAQ about the new system says:

“We have decided to use your mobile phone for extra security so there is no need to carry around a card reader to use e-banking. This also provides extra security as it is unlikely a fraudster will be able to capture both your internet log on credentials as well as your mobile phone.”

I have a problem with that assumption. I know a lot of otherwise very smart people who use their “smart” phones as a central repository of a huge amount of difficult to remember personal information. These days it is very rare for anyone to actually even remember a friend’s ‘phone number. Why bother – just scroll down to “john at work” and press call. These same people store names, addresses, birthday reminders, and yes, passwords for the umpteen web services they use, on the same device. That ‘phone may even be used to log on to the website that requires the password. Indeed, it is entirely plausible that many people will use their ‘phone to log on to their bank when out and about simply to make exactly the kind of transaction my bank deems “high risk” , i.e. to transfer funds from one acccount to another so that they can make a cash withdrawal from an ATM without incurring charges.

How many mobiles are lost or stolen every day?


Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2009/10/15/on-line-banking-security/