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Online banking

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Online banking

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Online banking (or Internet banking) is a term used for performing transactions, payments etc. over the Internet through a bank, credit union or building society's secure website. This allows customers to do their banking outside of bank hours and from anywhere where Internet access is available. In most cases a web browser is utilized and any normal Internet connection is suitable. No special software or hardware is usually needed.

Features

Online banking usually offers such features as:

  • Bank statements, with the possibility to import data in a personal finance program such as Quicken or Microsoft Money
  • Electronic bill payment
  • Funds transfer between a customer's own checking and savings accounts, or to another customer's account
  • Investment purchase or sale
  • Loan applications and transactions, such as repayments
  • Account aggregation to allow the customers to monitor all of their accounts in one place whether they are with their main bank or with other institutions.

There are a growing number of so-called virtual banks that operate exclusively online. These online banks have low costs compared to traditional banks and so they often offer higher interest rates.

Security

Security token devices
Security token devices

Protection through single password authentication, as is the case in most secure Internet shopping sites, is not considered secure enough for personal online banking applications in some countries. Online banking user interfaces are secure sites (generally employing the https protocol) and traffic of all information - including the password - is encrypted, making it next to impossible for a third party to obtain or modify information after it is sent. However, encryption alone does not rule out the possibility of hackers gaining access to vulnerable home PCs and intercepting the password as it is typed in (keystroke logging). There is also the danger of password cracking and physical theft of passwords written down by careless users.

Many online banking services therefore impose a second layer of security. Strategies vary, but a common method is the use of transaction numbers, or TANs, which are essentially single use passwords. Another strategy is the use of two passwords, only random parts of which are entered at the start of every online banking session. This is however slightly less secure than the TAN alternative and more inconvenient for the user. A third option, used in many European countries and currently being trialled in the UK is providing customers with security token devices capable of generating single use passwords unique to the customer's token (this is called two-factor authentication or 2FA). Another option is using digital certificates, which digitally sign or authenticate the transactions, by linking them to the physical device (e.g. computer, mobile phone, etc). While most online banking in the United States still uses single password protection, the FFIEC issued regulations requiring that banks implement more secure authentication mechanisms by the end of 2006. Most large U.S. banks have responded not with security tokens or digital certificates, but by setting up a combination of controls that recognize a customer's computer, ask additional challenge questions for risky behavior, and monitor for fraudulent behavior.

Banks in many European countries (including the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium) are offering online banking for e-commerce payments directly from customer to merchants. For instance, see iDEAL.

Fraud

Some customers avoid online banking as they perceive it as being too vulnerable to fraud. The security measures employed by most banks can never be completely safe, but in practice the number of fraud victims due to online banking is very small. This is probably due to the fact that a relatively small number of people use Internet banking compared with the total number of banking customers world wide. Indeed, conventional banking practices may be more prone to abuse by fraudsters than online banking. Credit card fraud, signature forgery and identity theft are far more widespread "offline" crimes than malicious hacking. Bank transactions are generally traceable and criminal penalties for bank fraud are high. Online banking becomes less secure if users are careless, gullible or computer illiterate. An increasingly popular criminal practice to gain access to a user's finances is phishing, whereby the user is in some way persuaded to hand over their password(s) to a fraudster.


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