Beyond Passwords: How to Protect Your Financial Data

A woman in her mid-20s leans on a white conference table as she holds a mobile smartphone and secures financial data.

With data breaches becoming increasingly common, protecting your financial data online has never been more important. There have been 9,044 public breaches since 2005, exposing more than 10 million records including email and website passwords, social security numbers and credit card information.

Simply avoiding online financial tools isn’t the answer—and creating solid passwords to your accounts is just the start. The key is to employ more comprehensive online security measures that keep your data safe, while you take advantage of tech that helps you better track and manage your money. Here are five tips for protecting your online financial data:

1. Use Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication

A strong password only goes so far when it comes to protecting your data from bad actors. To add another layer of security to your financial accounts, take advantage of two-factor authentication. This can be anything from a security code texted to your phone to a physical security key required to unlock your computer. The latter is often employed by tech giants such as Google and Twitter, but individuals can make use of the technology as well. You can purchase a physical, blue-tooth enabled key for as little as $20, according to Consumer Reports.

2. Change Up Your Usernames

Most people are aware that they should switch up their passwords on a semi-regular basis (or better yet, use a password manager that does it for you). However, fewer people pay attention to their usernames. Changing your username from your primary email to something more unique is a great first step toward improving your online security. Set a schedule to methodically change your logins, with a focus on your financial accounts. Switch up your usernames at least once or twice each year and try not to repeat logins you've used in the past.

3. Keep Your Transactions Private

Logging onto to public Wi-Fi networks when they’re available has become second nature to many people. But you need to be wary of logging into your financial accounts when you're on a public network—there could easily be someone else on the network monitoring your activity. The same goes for making transactions on your devices, including entering your credit card, bank account or other financial information. If you’re out on the public Internet, try to leave your financial business at home.

4. Secure Your Devices

Your devices are a vector for malware, viruses and more, which is why updating the operating systems on your smartphone and computers is paramount. The new versions often come with additional security patches that protect your device—at no additional cost. Install the new operating systems as soon as you can. Then after you complete an update, re-check your privacy settings on your apps and device to make sure that they remained the same. In addition, consider installing anti-malware software on your devices and keep it updated as well. The software can prevent hacks and identify potential issues before they become real security problems.

5. Monitor Your Credit

Even with your efforts to secure your data, you may be—or may have already been—subject to a breach. Keeping close tabs on your credit report allows you to know if your personal information is being used for fraudulent activity. For instance, your credit report reveals inquiries made about your creditworthiness as well as accounts opened in your name. Checking in at least once a year ensures that if you’ll spot suspicious activity relatively early—and then stop it before it goes on too long. You can receive free copies of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus one time per year.

The rise of online banking and electronic financial transactions have made life that much easier, even if it's subjected our financial data to more risk. Balance the convenience that digital financial tools provide with some added security measures, and you'll be able to avoid data breaches—or at least respond to them early and limit any damage.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever.