In 2021, over 24 million US households fell victim to account takeovers. That’s why people have become increasingly curious about virtual private networks (VPNs) that can secure their online banking activities. But is it safe to use a VPN for online banking? Yes, provided you know what you are doing.
Is it safer to do online banking with a VPN?
Yes, online banking with a VPN is safer than without it. A virtual private network does NOT compromise your data, protecting it when you bank over public Wi-Fi or through a home network.
Generally speaking, encryption is the most important feature a VPN offers. To that end, the current 256-bit encryption standards are nearly impossible to crack in a human lifetime. This is why government agencies, as well as VPNs, use them universally.
When to use a VPN for online banking
- When using public Wi-Fi: VPNs are vital for keeping all of your data, including bank account logins, safe. Without them, there are countless ways hackers can compromise a Wi-Fi connection. But when these criminals are siphoning data before it gets to the VPN server, all they’re gathering is an unbreakable code that’s useless to them.
- When you’re at home: Although public wireless networks are more dangerous, VPNs are also essential on your home Wi-Fi, as it suffers from some of the vulnerabilities that plague public networks. Additionally, using a VPN at home for banking and other matters improves your privacy as well. It makes you much harder to track down online and keeps your browsing history secret from ISPs (or government agencies asking ISPs to turn over your data).
- When you’re travelling: Using a VPN for banking also keeps your account safe from you. Because banks may become suspicious when you access it from another country. In the worst-case scenario, you can end up locked out of your account while abroad. With a VPN, you can avoid that: just connect to a server in your home country. That way, the bank won’t know you’re not where it thinks you are.
Having said all that, some things can compromise your secure banking even over a VPN.
When is a VPN not safe for online banking?
First of all, you’re not safe when you use a free VPN app for banking.
Free VPN apps:
- Don’t have the resources (and, sometimes, the desire) to offer leading-edge security services. In fact, scientists have analyzed over 280 free Android VPN apps and found that 18% don’t encrypt data, while 84% leak user data. Yeah, research and development aren’t cheap – and neither is running VPN servers.
- Have to make money somehow. In the best-case scenario, you’ll have a slow, data-capped connection that may annoy you with ads. At worst, the app will track you and have malware as part of its code (the above-mentioned research showed that 38% of free VPN apps contain malware). Free VPNs can also steal your data, including your credit card info.
But even the best VPNs will provide little help if you yourself compromise your data. And there are multiple ways you might do it.
One of them is visiting questionable or outright fake websites. These can be masquerading as legitimate websites you want to visit, but only exist to steal your data once you enter it. The good news is that always being on the lookout as well as using tools like CleanWeb can help a lot. For example, CleanWeb blocks malicious ads and prevents you from opening dangerous websites. But there are also other ways you can improve your online banking safety.
Improving online banking safety
Here’s what you can do to keep your online banking safe beyond a VPN:
- Don’t reuse passwords: Data leaks are an ever-present danger these days, and you don’t want one leaked password to compromise your bank account.
- Use strong passwords: We all know the jokes about “password” and “12345.” Luckily these days, many systems don’t even allow you to set a weak password.
- Use 2FA: Two-Factor Authentication puts another step in the login process, which is another thing that hackers need to crack. This makes their crimes harder to pull off.
- Get updates: Your device, your antivirus software, your VPN app all get periodic updates. They improve not only functionality, but security as well. So, best not to ignore them.
- Lock your screen: This applies to smartphones, laptops, work computers… basically anything. A hacker can easily circumvent your VPN protection if they get physical access to your device. So don’t leave it open for them.
- Don’t click suspicious links: Virus pop-ups on websites, strange links in emails, weird attachments – ignore them all.
- Turn on banking notifications: Many banks and apps have the option of notifying you of any activities. With these, you’ll be immediately notified of all transfers, including any suspicious ones.
- Use an antivirus: Whether it’s on a smartphone or on your computer, antivirus software will always improve your digital security.
These are some of the basics of online banking security. They should keep you safe from giving criminals the data that would compromise your VPN security. However, there are more quality-of-life improvements that VPNs bring with them.
How does a VPN improve my online banking experience?
Here are additional VPN features that help you with online banking:
- Multiple installs: A single VPN account allows you to use it on multiple (or, in Surfshark VPN’s case, unlimited) devices. Thus, your banking is secured on your phone, laptop, and so on.
- Kill Switch: It’s a feature that disconnects you from the internet if the VPN connection is interrupted. With it, you don’t end up accidentally browsing the internet unprotected.
- Blocking phishing: Some VPNs have a feature – like Surfshark’s CleanWeb – which actively blocks suspicious pop-ups, malicious links, and so on. It may be merely convenient for someone who knows and follows basic internet security tips, but it’s a lot more important when securing the devices of family members.
- Split-tunneling: A split-tunneling (a.k.a. Bypasser) feature allows you to make specific processes exempt from VPN. If you don’t want your banking to go via VPN for some reason (for example, some banks are not OK with VPN use), this is the way to do it.
And that’s before you factor in the many other uses and benefits of VPN outside of line banking.
VPN: online banking ally
A VPN is perfectly safe for banking if you know what you’re doing (namely, not using a free VPN). Plus, it is often an improvement to your overall security online. And with plans getting cheaper all the time, can you really afford not to invest in a VPN? Try Surfshark VPN risk-free – after all, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee!