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man and woman looking at a tabletAs the public increases its use of mobile banking apps, partially due to increased time at home from the Coronavirus pandemic, the FBI anticipates cyber actors will exploit these platforms.

Americans are increasingly using their mobile devices to conduct banking activities such as depositing checks and transferring funds. Studies of U.S. financial data indicate a 50 percent surge in mobile banking since the beginning of 2020.

With state and local governments urging or mandating social distancing, Americans have become more willing to use mobile banking as an alternative to physically visiting a bank.

The FBI expects cyber actors to attempt to exploit new mobile banking customers using a variety of techniques, including app-based banking trojans and fake banking apps.

App-Based Banking Trojans

The FBI advises the public to be cautious when downloading apps on smartphones and tablets, as some could be concealing malicious intent. Cyber actors target banking information using banking trojans, which are malicious programs that disguise themselves as other apps, such as games or tools. When the user launches a legitimate banking app, it triggers the previously downloaded trojan that has been lying dormant on their device. The trojan creates a false version of the bank’s login page and overlays it on the legitimate app. Once the user enters their credentials into the false login page, the trojan passes the user to the real banking app login page so they do not realize they have been compromised.

Fake Banking Apps

Cyber actors also create fraudulent apps designed to impersonate the real apps of financial institutions, with the intent of tricking users into entering their login credentials. These apps provide an error message after the attempted login and will use smartphone permission requests to obtain and bypass security codes texted to users.

TIPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR BUSINESS

Obtain Apps from Trusted Sources

Private sector companies manage app stores for smartphones and actively vet these apps for malicious content. Additionally, most U.S. banks, like American Federal Bank, provide a link to their mobile app on their website. The FBI recommends only obtaining smartphone apps from trusted sources like official app stores or directly from bank websites.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

Cybersecurity experts stress that two-factor authentication is a highly effective tool to secure accounts against compromise, and enabling any form of two-factor authentication will be to the user’s advantage.

Do:

  • Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication on devices and accounts to protect them from malicious compromise.
  • Use strong two-factor authentication, if possible, via biometrics, hardware tokens, or authentication apps.
  • Use multiple types of authentication for accounts, if possible. Layering different authentication standards is a stronger security option.
  • Monitor where your Personal Identifiable Information (PII) is stored and only share the most necessary information with financial institutions.

Don’t:

  • Click links in e-mails or text messages. Ensure these messages come from the financial institution by double-checking e-mail details. Many criminals use legitimate-looking messages to trick users into giving up login details.
  • Give two-factor passcodes to anyone over the phone or via text. Financial institutions will not ask you for these codes over the phone.

Use Strong Passwords and Good Password Security

Cyber actors regularly exploit users who reuse passwords or use common or insecure passwords. The FBI recommends creating strong, unique passwords to mitigate these attacks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s most recent guidance encourages users to make passwords that are 15 characters or longer.

Do:

  • Use passwords that contain UPPER CASE letters, lower case letters and symbols.
  • Use a minimum of eight characters per password.
  • Create unique passwords for banking apps.
  • Consider using a password manager or password management service.

Don’t:

  • Use common passwords or phrases, such as “Password1!” or “123456.”
  • Reuse the same passwords for multiple accounts.
  • Store passwords in written form or in an insecure phone app like a notepad.
  • Give your password to anyone. Financial institutions will not ask you for this information over the phone or text message.

If a Banking App Appears Suspicious, Call the Bank

If you encounter an app that appears suspicious, exercise caution and contact the financial institution. Major financial institutions may ask for a banking PIN number, however, will never ask for your username and password over the phone. If the phone call seems suspicious, hang up and call the bank.