Wireless Security and Online Investing - dummies

Wireless Security and Online Investing

By Matt Krantz

Security is a serious concern when dealing with your money, but when you access your stock data wirelessly, especially from a public area, you need to pay special attention to security. Here are three ways to do just that:

  • Make sure that your data is encrypted.

    Most Internet browsers let you know whether the data is being encrypted — scrambled, in other words. If you’re using Microsoft’s Edge browser, you can check by looking for the icon of a padlock. The padlock icon usually appears to the left of the address bar when a website asks for potentially sensitive information, such as account numbers, or when the website address begins with https (s stands for secure) rather than the usual http.

    When you see a padlock icon, that’s a signal to you that the data is being scrambled to make it harder for the guy sitting next to you at Starbucks to read your information. Your computer and Windows then scramble your data. The data is then decrypted, or unscrambled, by the website.

    You can click the padlock icon to get more information about the security of the website. Be sure to select the check box that pops up to confirm that the site’s certificate, or identification, lists the name of your brokerage firm. If the padlock doesn’t appear, that might mean that the site uses a different method of securing data, which is something you should ask your broker about.

  • Use virtual private network (VPN) software.

    A VPN is a technology used to protect your data from snoops over the Internet. Some Internet service providers (ISPs) offer this service to customers, or if you’re using your work laptop, a VPN might be installed already. You might also consider installing VPN software on your computer. Some VPN software is free, like Hotspot Shield and OpenVPN, while others have a free trial version, such as LogMeInHamachi. PublicVPN.com charges $6.95 a month, and Hotspot.vpn charges $8.88 a month.

  • Consider digital security key fobs.

    Some brokers, such as E*TRADE, provide key fobs that digitally display a new 6-digit code every minute. The idea here is that you’d then take that code and use it (in addition to your username and password) to log on to the website. The added wrinkle of an always-changing code makes it extremely unlikely that a hacker could break into your accounts. E*TRADE also has an app that will provide the secret code to you on your smartphone.

    Be sure to ask your broker what kind of protection it gives you if a hacker gets into your account. E*TRADE and TD Ameritrade, for instance, will cover the entire loss. Also, TD Ameritrade provides a very detailed guide to all the things you can do to protect your computer when investing online. You don’t need to be a TD Ameritrade customer to use the site. The site also provides tips if you use browsers other than Internet Explorer.