Online banking is an appealing concept: It's accessible anywhere, anytime and using e-billing eliminates the pounds of paper bills mailed to your house every year. That last advantage can actually make online banking more secure than traditional paper banking. Bills frequently list your account number, credit card number or other financial information that would be dangerous in the wrong hands. Without paper statements, only someone with access to your online bank account can access your personal information.
Many Web sites -- banks included -- use a transfer protocol called Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS. While we use HTTP on a daily basis to browse the World Wide Web, HTTPS adds a form of security that encrypts data. This security is typically depicted in your Web browser by a lock or key, and any secured URL should begin with "https://" instead of "http://". Next time you log into your online banking account, pay attention to your URL bar. Is the page encrypted? If so, it will be very difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on the connection and hijack your financial data.
Popular online commerce sites like Amazon go to great lengths to secure their information, too, so you should see the same comforting HTTPS protocol while carrying out transactions. But that doesn't mean all online retailers are equally secure.