How to Use Online Banking Really Safely, Part II

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In the first part of this article we discussed the threats and the techniques that malevolent hackers, computer virus writers, spammers, and other criminal elements of the online world employed in order to gain access to bank accounts, credit cards, email accounts, and even identities of unsuspecting people. In the second part we will find out how to access online banking and other important accounts really safely.

One might argue that in order to protect yourself online sufficiently well, you’ve got to be really computer-savvy, if not an IT professional. However, it is not really so – maybe you’ll not completely protect your computer from all kinds of threats, at least you can ensure that your data are accessed only by those who you authorize, and that you have more piece of mind and sleep just a little better at night.

So, what can we do in order to protect ourselves, that which wouldn’t be too complicated and too time consuming? The first thought that arises in this respect is to use a naturally secure operating system, such as Linux. But guess what, not everyone is ready to take such a radical leap. To start using Linux on a regular basis would demand you to take time and effort to learn how to use this system, to gain quite some expertise in the computer field, and to sacrifice using many programs and playing many computer games. Then, there’s a softer alternative – that is to use MacOS X. Because, like Linux, this operating system is based on Unix, it is indeed very secure and very stable. Also, MacOS X is much easier to learn to use than Linux and it has a much wider range of software familiar to Windows users. But then again, there are some cons: not everyone is willing to switch, and MacOS only runs on Apple hardware, which is usually quite expensive, so not everyone is into investing too much money into purchasing a computer. So, let’s explore another alternative.

You might have heard about virtualization. In fact, virtualization is related to cloud computing, and is particularly used for creating virtual computer hardware. The idea is to create one such virtual computer, which you will dedicate to accessing your important online accounts. This virtual machine can be run on top of your Windows system, it will take little resources, will load fast, and it will be completely isolated from your host Windows environment. That is, however many trojans or viruses there would be on one’s computer, that will not be relevant to what’s going on inside the virtual machine.

Now, to create such a virtual hardware computer costs nothing moneywise, all you have to invest is maybe a couple of hours of your time to set this all up, and here’s a step-by-step instruction on how to do that, which is very easy and fun.

Step 1. Download virtual hardware software. There are a few alternatives, but we will choose free ones. One of the best such programs is VirtualBox. It’s free and it’s open source.

Step 2. Install VirtualBox. The process is very straight-forward, just install the default configuration and agree to install the virtual network adapters.

Step 3. Create a new virtual machine. To do this, click “New” as shown on the picture below.

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Now we need to decide what operating system we’re going to use on our virtual computer to access important online accounts. Some licensing aspects come into play at this stage. If you’re using Windows right now then you probably have a license (maybe the licensing code is on the bottom of your laptop or elsewhere). So you can opt to install another copy of Windows for this purpose, then install all the necessary updates from Microsoft Update, and use this machine solely for accessing your online accounts, such as online banking, and not for internet browsing or anything else, because the risk of compromising the machine increases greatly, and the purpose of creating this virtual machine will then diminish.

But here’s what we can do instead – we can install a free copy of Ubuntu Linux! Some might be a little puzzled when they hear “install Linux”. But the trick is that, first of all, this version of Linux is very friendly, easy to install; and, secondly, you don’t need to use it for anything other than accessing your accounts! The advantage you’re getting over Windows in this case is that you’ll not have to worry about security at all! Even if you use this virtual machine for things other than only accessing your important data online, it is very unlikely that any of your accounts will ever be compromised! Unless, of course, you don’t access them only from this machine.

So, let’s do the thing. Make the necessary choices and click “Next”.

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Now choose the amount of memory to be used by the virtual machine and press “Next”. Depending on your computer configuration, you can set more or less memory, but 1 GB should generally be enough. This memory will be utilized by the virtual machine only when you use it, not at any other time.

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Then create a virtual hard drive. You decide how much disk space you can give to the virtual machine. It doesn’t need much, and 8 GB would be more than enough. Moreover, don’t be too greedy because your disk space will not be taken all at once, as the virtual disk file is self-expanding whenever needed, but only up to the limit you set now.

On the following screen, the system will ask you for a virtual disk file format, we can choose any one of them, but I recommend choosing VMDK, as this format is more universal, and you can employ the same virtual disk in another virtual machine, such as VMWare, if you find it to your taste in the future.

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On the next screen, you’ll be asked if you would like to dynamically allocate space to the virtual disk or if you want it to be of fixed size. To preserve resources, I would recommend choosing dynamic allocation.

Finally, create the disk. Voila, your new virtual machine is ready, and all that is remaining to be done is installation of the operating system. We chose to go with Ubuntu. If you have not yet downloaded it, please do so. Now return to your VirtualBox window and click “Settings” -> “Storage” and click on the little blue disc in the “Attributes” section, then click “Choose a virtual CD/DVD disk file”. Navigate to where you saved the Ubuntu ISO image file and select it, then click OK until you descend to the main window of VirtualBox.

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We’re ready to begin! Press the “Start” button. Your virtual machine will boot up, and Ubuntu installation will begin. You can find an official Ubuntu installation guide right here.

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The whole process shouldn’t take more than 1-2 hours of your time, and you will now be completely prepared to safely use your online banking, email, social media, and whatnot, in a real safety environment. I hope you found this article useful!